Category Archives: Camping

Part 2: It Doesn’t Look any Bigger than the Mauritania

If you haven’t, first read Part 1 of my trip report. Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I recommend it!

We left Elkmont Campground around 9:30/10 am and headed to Pigeon Forge. I hadn’t originally planned for us to go to any of the touristy areas around there, but at some point I noticed there was a Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge…that looked like the Titanic. You may not know this, but I was, at one time, and still somewhat am, completely obsessed with the movie Titanic. I saw it, I believe, 11 times in the theater. I’ve seen it countless times since. I read many books on the ship; I even went to the library and looked at microfilm to see the original reports from the sinking. So, I couldn’t pass up a trip to the museum! There’s evidently one in Branson too, which would technically be closer for us, but the internet told me the Pigeon Forge one was better, so my decision was made!

Before Louie got the camping shower, I’d thought we would need to seek out a place to shower, but luckily we didn’t need to do that! So we just headed straight for the museum. Our reservation was at 11 am, but we got there a little early and it wasn’t very busy at all.

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When you enter the museum, they give you a “boarding pass” and each one has the story of a passenger on the Titanic. At the end of the museum you learn his or her fate.

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I liked the one they gave Louie because he was a violinist!

The museum admission comes with an audio tour, which was quite helpful and informative. There is mostly no photography allowed in the museum, except in one area where they were showing off some of the actual costumes from the movie.

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This is the corset from the scene in the movie where Rose’s mother is telling her “This is not a game. Our situation is precarious. You know the money is gone.”

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And of course, the dress we first see Rose in! “It doesn’t look any bigger than the Mauritania…”

Although I think the museum is more of a “one and done” type of place, I thought it was well done and quite interesting. There were loads of actual artifacts from the ship and great information. I didn’t learn as much as Louie only because I already knew the information, ha! They even had an area (very cold) where you could feel what the iceberg and the cold water would have felt like. We couldn’t even stand to be in the room at that point, much less spend time in the water! There was another part with the deck at various tilted angles. And tons of stories of the people, both the survivors and those lost. I highly recommend taking the time to go if you are in the area. We probably spent about an hour there, so it wasn’t terribly long, but I felt it was worth it, at least for me.  Who am I kidding, I loved it. Total guilty pleasure, and I’m grateful to Louie for tagging along.

Afterwards, we decided to grab lunch at a nearby restaurant called the Local Goat. I got a really nice portabella mushroom and goat cheese sandwich while Louie had less luck with fish tacos. Then we headed to our next campground destination, Cataloochee!

Before you go to Cataloochee, you need to know there are no services there, no ice, no wood available, so be sure to stock up. We made sure we had plenty of both and all the groceries we needed to, and then we were ready. You go up a winding gravel road for several miles, but it was no problem for the Corolla (unless I had been driving and then I might have had a panic attack, but Louie thrives on this windy mountain driving. ) After about 2 hours we arrived at the campground. This place was even more beautiful than Elkmont, and more remote. I had reserved site 7, and again, I think it was one of the best if not the best site. It was fairly private, and had lots of room and backed up to the creek.

We started unpacking, and noticed this right behind our campsite.

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Was it what we thought? We headed up to chat with the camp host to see what he thought. He told us that yep, the past two nights a bear had been in the area, but the night before the rangers had trapped the fellow and relocated him about 20 miles away. Okay, good to know. Be on the lookout. Be ready to make some noise to scare the bears away!

Cataloochee campground had no shortage of trash cans. Only one bear box for those without cars, but every site had its own little bear proof trash can, which we thought was hilarious. We kept all our food stuffs in the trunk when we weren’t using them, though we noticed our neighbors weren’t quite as careful, which is frankly upsetting and annoying to me…we work really hard to keep a very clean campsite, and if everybody doesn’t, then the bears are coming.

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The tent from the backside. How beautiful is this setting??

After we got set up, we decided to go looking for the elk…we were told to turn left out of the campground and continue into the Valley and we’d see them, especially around dusk, so we set out before dinner.

The elk were reintroduced to the Park in 2001, after being gone from the area for over 150 years. It took a little work, but the herd is now doing well and part of them even moved away to another area of the park.

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We did the typical Park “pull over on the side of the road, roll down the windows and start snapping pictures…”

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Cataloochee Valley used to be full of people, so there are quite a few historic buildings left.

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Anyway, we spent some time just watching the elk and taking pictures, and after awhile we started heading back. We popped into a few of the old buildings, when there weren’t elk around.

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And then! A smallish black bear crossed the road right in front of our car. Louie stopped the car and we both kind of froze and panicked! Then we watched it in the woods next to the car and hoped it didn’t notice us. I took this excellent photo.

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I’m pretty sure that black blobby bit is the bear.

We were pretty close to the campground then, so we went back and told the camp host what we’d see. He was a little alarmed and said “Maybe they got the wrong bear!”. I think I was a little freaked out that evening! It started raining a bit after that so we waited for a break in the rain to make dinner, and then we relaxed a bit and went to bed.

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In the morning we got up fairly early to do a hike called the Big Fork Ridge Trail Loop, about 9.1 miles. It was still fairly raining (light, off and on) and the humidity was high. Once we got started on the hike, we never saw another person!

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The terrain varied over the course of the hike, from a wide gravel road, to narrow bits, mud, rocks, you name it! About 5 miles in the trail was completely blocked by a giant tree, and we had to crawl around it. Here’s what the trail looked like after we got around the tree!

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Going around was a little tricky, but we could see the trail way on the other side so we felt good about it.  We had forgotten our chain saws though Winking smile

There was a little side trail to see the “Big Poplars” which were actually Tulip Trees, evidently.

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That’s a big tree!

We ate our lunch at a campsite, since there were nice places to sit. We definitely needed to reapply bugspray! It was buggy and muggy.

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Another side trail went to a gravesite from the Civil War.

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Anyway, the hike took us about 5 1/2 hours. On our short drive back to the campground, yep, we saw more elk! We took camp showers after that, and then just did a variety of things around the campground, planned the next day, relaxed, made a fire, etc.

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This is the view from the back of our campsite. We would have set up our tent further back if we hadn’t been required to use the tent pad.

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You can see there was a lot of extra room!

The next morning we didn’t jump out of bed because we’d chosen a slightly shorter hike, called the Boogerman Loop. It was about 7.5 miles around, and the trailhead was within walking distance of the campground.

It started with a wooden bridge…

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We ate our lunch around this giant tree. It was a bit warmer than the day before, and less raining, so we saw a few more people on this hike.

There was a lot of evidence of people having lived here before: old rock walls, grave stones, even old farm equipment. Not all of my pictures turned out well– sometimes I don’t spend enough time standing still.

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During the hike there had been a variety of creek crossings, mostly with those little wooden bridges. It seemed like each crossing was getting more difficult…for instance, a bridge seemed quite broken and we walked very carefully, another crossing that didn’t have a bridge, but probably needed one…at one point Louie joked that the trail was presenting us with increasingly difficult obstacles, like a game. And then suddenly we came to a place where there was no bridge, just a creek…and it seemed there once was a bridge and now it was gone. There was no way around it: we had two choices, turn around (4-5 miles back) or forge the creek. It looked scary, but we had two hiking sticks, good shoes, and I figured, the horses do it. We plotted our course, took some deep breaths, and waded through the water.

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This was, I believe, one of the earlier challenges, but you can see there’s plenty of water and not an obvious trail.

And here’s me going across!

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And Louie…

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After the first crossing, the second didn’t seem so bad…that’s always the way of it! Though I wasn’t super happy to see the second bridge out.

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It wasn’t so bad though, and the worst was really all the mud on the trails afterwards!

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But I was pretty relieved to see this guy later…

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When we finally finished the hike, we noticed there had been this warning at the beginning, which I’d seen but hadn’t really read.

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Anyway, we walked back to the campground, dipping our feet in the creek along the way to wash off the mud…and then we hung things up to dry and took showers.

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This is a little swimming area at the campground. People swam, though the water would have been too cold for me! Not as a kid though, I would have made it work like kids do.

While we were getting cleaned up a woman drove by and told us about a ranger talk in a nearby house, so we decided to go check it out before dinner. We got there late but were only 2 of the 5 watching. As we listened, it started POURING rain…and just so you know, we weren’t so smart and left a bunch of stuff hanging on the clothesline back at our camp. We were dry under a porch (well, fairly, as it leaked) so we listened to the ranger talk about the Elk and various other things and it was very interesting. Then, as the rain let up a bit, we watched some male “bachelor” elk head our way.

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This guy was right by our car. The ranger told us about another ranger who had had his car damaged by an elk, got it all scratched up. We were lucky this time.

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The caution tape was actually for the front of the house, the Palmer House, as the porch had been repainted that day. I like it in the picture though.

After that, we headed back down to the valley area of the other night, and watched the elk there again. And…get this. In almost the same place, ANOTHER black bear crossed in front of us. We didn’t get pictures, because it was just too fast, but WOW. Two bears crossing the road in front of us? CRAZY.

We got back to the campsite and of course most everything was soaked. We decided to make the best of it and try to make a campfire anyway, and Louie managed! I also managed to cook dinner and then we hung out a bit. At one point…we were sitting at the campfire and then heard a loud crash from the bushes/trees behind us. We both jumped up and ran towards the car…I was certain a bear was going to be heading out the bushes towards us…I had my light pointed at it and was ready to start yelling, and nothing happened. Louie said he’d thought a bear fell out of a tree, because he’d heard a branch snap and then a lot of rustling. I don’t even know what really happened, because we never saw anything. Maybe just a branch fell and then made a lot of noise—the bushes and trees were thick and maybe that was the rustling. Or the bear ran away and was scared. In any case, we worked up the nerve to sit back down after awhile.

The next morning we had to pack up even though pretty much everything was wet. Our tent stayed FAIRLY dry but even that had some dampness from the floor. Our hiking shoes were soaked, our towels were soaked, everything was at least damp, but the good news was: we were heading to Asheville to stay INSIDE and could do laundry and take a real shower when we got there. So we packed up and headed out, stopping to get a few pictures at a viewpoint.

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A few more thoughts on Cataloochee: We would come back again for sure. Site 7 was awesome! And there were more hikes to do. An overnight hike would also be great, though perhaps terrifying. All the backcountry campsites had wires and pulleys to hang your food.

Also, in a different vehicle, we might have driven in a different way. We took the “short” way in and only had to drive on about 3 miles of gravel roads, but there’s a more scenic way which means about 10 miles of gravel roads (decently well maintained), which in a different vehicle could be awesome. I guess I wish we’d had another night or two, though it was nice to get out of the rain.

So next stop: Asheville!

Part 1: Waiting for the bears to attack

As long time readers and friends and family might know, the past few summers Louie and I have gone on some very extensive and long camping road trips…full of adventure, of course, but sometimes very tiring. (Check out the “Travel” tab for those posts!) When brainstorming our plans for this summer we thought, well, let’s keep it easier and go back to the Smoky Mountains and spent a lot of time in one place. After some research, I booked 3 nights in 4 different places, 3 of them camping, one staying in an AirBNB in Asheville. 

Our first stop would be Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, not too far from Gatlinburg. And, my friend April, who had moved to Atlanta a few months before, would be joining us for two nights!

I planned the trip to leave the morning after the last performance of Carousel with Union Avenue Opera. This meant the two days before we spent getting ready: packing, dealing with all the “going away” stuff. Camping trips always require more assembly and packing than a non-camping trip. We had a few new “toys” this trip, the highlight of which was a camping shower tent and portable shower. Louie had found them on Amazon, and since each portion of our trip would be 3 days at a campground without a shower, he thought it would be amazing to be able to rinse off better. We also switched up a few things with how we packed the car, and we had recently purchased a new large cooler.

In any case, I believe we hit the road by 8:30 am on Sunday morning. We had to make a few stops, many of which were annoying and fruitless, but we were happy to be on vacation. Around lunch we stopped and got a quick lunch at a McDonald’s (guilty vacation pleasure) and then kept driving. April was going to be meeting us at the campground that night and we wanted to get in before dark in order to get set up before the bears come out.

(Just kidding) (though there are lots of bears in the Smokies, but we were mentally prepared to deal with bear safety.)

We lost an hour as well (time change) but got to the campground around 6:45 pm, I believe. April was already there and waiting! We found our beautiful campsite and started setting up. The campground was very wooded and lush, and our site was right next to a creek and the sounds were lovely and made everything seem more private.

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I thought they were closer when I took the picture.

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We brought our extra orange tent for April to use.

A few notes about camping in National Parks: They seem to have a lot more rules and regulations than other campgrounds. Not even counting all the bear safety regulations, there are rules like, you must pitch all your tents on the tent pad. On the one hand, this is nice because you know you’ll have a relatively flat place to pitch the tent and you don’t have to think too much. On the other hand, your tent is very close to your friend’s tent! We didn’t mind much for two nights though.

Bear safety rules: never leave any food products out when you aren’t actively using them. This means dishes, stoves, soap, and of course, coolers and food. They told us to put these things in the car, but we naturally put them in the trunk now (we were told that no bears in the Smokies had broken into a car by one camp host, but I’m not sure that’s true). It can be annoying—you finish dinner and just want to relax a bit, but it’s more important to clean up first. And they only have cold water to wash your dishes in, and you can’t wash your dishes at your campsite, you must wash them at the sink near the bathrooms. You also shouldn’t leave any food products or anything with a scent in your tent: for instance, no toiletries. Some places even say no water bottles in the tent and others say it doesn’t matter. It seems like there isn’t as much consistency as we’d like: some places have so many bear proof trash cans you are tripping over them, others make you walk a long way. Some places have bear proof boxes at the campground to store food, others only have one for people arriving without cars. Some places confiscate coolers that are left out, others seem to be fine with people leaving out greasy cookwear all day long!

So, camping isn’t easy, but it can be a lot of fun. Sometimes the work required to camp and cook outside is annoying, but mostly it’s just how we do it, and you just do the clean up and then finally get to relax by the fire for a bit.

I know I’m going on and on, but I want you to understand what all this is like! And to tell you why we do all this: not because the bears will hurt us, but because we will hurt the bears. If you feed bears, if you teach bears that people provide food, then they end up hanging out near people, and then they get hurt, either hit by cars, hurt by eating cans and things they shouldn’t, or killed because they start to think people are the source of food. It’s best if we leave them alone and don’t teach them otherwise.

So, when we pulled into the campground (before 7 pm) there was a note on the ranger station saying that those of us with reservations needed to check in the next morning from 8 to 9. Which I thought was odd, because it wasn’t very late yet—usually people are working later than that. The little general store was still open selling firewood, but we were too late to check in? We had a reservation in any case, so I wasn’t too concerned.

After setting up our tents, we made dinner over the campstove and made a campfire too. We always cook dinner on the stove and just have a fire to relax in front of. Louie loves the challenge of building a fire with as little wood as necessary.

It was great to see April and the three of us stayed up late talking and laughing and catching up!

The next morning we got up and tried to check in at the time we were told. The ranger station was STILL closed, so we decided to try again later. We were going to do a bit of sightseeing and some hiking. I’d found a loop road called the “Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail” (say that three times fast, or even once fast) and wanted to drive it and maybe do a short hike or two from the road. We finally were able to check in, and the ranger acted like we were delinquent for being so late to do so…okay…but then we headed towards Gatlinburg.

We stopped by the Sugarlands Vistor Center first and looked around a bit. I got a few brochures including the one for the Motor Nature Trail, which ended up being one of the best purchases ever. They also had an extensive collection of stuffed animals (taxidermy) which was pretty interesting to see, though I prefer my animals alive! I was surprised by how small the bobcat was (not too far off from a normal housecat) and it was interesting to see all the kinds of foxes and things. I didn’t take any pictures though—sometimes it takes a little time to get into vacation mode and picture taking mode, and then later I regret that I didn’t take more pictures! I don’t really purchase many souvenirs as I figure my photos are enough.

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You can read upside down, right? So sometimes the road seems to be called different things—I’d seen Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, but the brochure says Auto Tour, and then honestly, I forget what the signs said when we tried to find the road, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been. We had to go out of the park and through Gatlinburg (whoa, that’s a tourist area!) and then ended up missing the first turn since it wasn’t marked the way anybody expected. (It turns out we needed to be looking for Cherokee Orchard Road…) In any case, we did find it eventually and then headed on. And I started reading from the brochure, and realized this wasn’t your typical brochure…

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Reads: “In the moments ahead, the forest will close in around you, spreading over the road and creating a mood of isolation—a serene detachment from the hurried pace of the highways. We invite you to stop often, get out, and smell the woods, feel the soft mosses and springy humus. Lean against the bark of a tree or sit on a rock along the way. Listen to the songs of birds and the humming of insects. “

That’s how you get the mood for vacation. I thought it would be an informative brochure telling me about what I was seeing and instead the whole thing covered how I should feel and the mood around our visit. It was amazing. We didn’t know what “humus” meant, but we tried to guess and kept talking about it for days.

In addition to the natural beauty of the Smokies, the other main feature of the park is the old houses of those that lived there before. When the park was founded, some people were allowed to stay on their property for their lifetimes, but some left earlier, and now some of the houses are being maintained and others not. I’m not sure where the choices are being made, but I’m sure there’s some reason for it.

We first pulled off and explored a little area at Ogle Place, right before the trail officially started. This was a sleeper hit—we didn’t realize there was a very lovely trail near a creek, and we were happy to have found it!

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Louie on a wooden bridge. These bridges would become a familiar and welcome sight! They are really a mainstay of the park.

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April and I on the same bridge.

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I love how lush and green everything is. Granted, it was very humid and damp all the time, but still…the beauty can’t be denied.

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It seems I underestimate how small people will be in my photographs.

After that walk (about 1 mile) we continued on the Trail, stopping along the way at various sites.

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This seems to be park of the burned area from the fires last fall. We didn’t explore it too far, though in retrospect (always these things are in retrospect, right?) I wish we had!

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The Haze—another stop on the trail as indicated on the guide. I highly recommend purchasing the guide pictured above. It’s one dollar the visitor’s center or at various stops along the way.

We got to Grotto Falls and wanted to hike to it, but the parking lot was jammed with cars! We ended up parking quite a ways down the road and had to walk back up to the trailhead (Trillium Gap Trail). We had some hummus (not to be confused with humus) and pita chips first for a snack, and then headed up the hill.

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The path was fairly crowded, but not too bad—we knew there would be crowds as there are at all Nat’l Parks but we didn’t find the Smokies to be overly crowded except at a few places here and there. Remember, no matter how many people are there at the Visitor’s Center, far less will be hiking more than 1/4 to 1/2 mile!

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We had our pictures taken by the Falls, but there aren’t any falls in these pictures, so that confuses me. It was a huge line for photos, and it felt more like Disneyworld or a Cruise than a hike. We decided to hike further for a bit, and it was quite difficult to fight through. After we passed the falls it really thinned out.

I should have brought my hiking sticks on this hike. I don’t know why I didn’t—I think with them I could have gone further. I also (I’m just going to admit this!) wasn’t as in as good of shape as in previous summers. I got so busy during the year and let things go, and then I started working out again but it was too late. I’m going to work harder this year to get back into better shape and be able to (hopefully!) enjoy hikes more! In any case, it was wonderful company and nice views even though going uphill was a real challenge. We probably went about 7 miles round trip! It did rain off and on which was annoying, but not a huge problem as we all had rain jackets.

After that, we continued along the trail, stopping to see various houses and landmarks. I was struck by how different various houses were built from one another: I suppose if I had to build a house it might not be very good, but my dad built an amazing dome house, so I’m glad I’m not in charge today. All the house we saw were better than what I would do, but some were better than others.

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After the tour, we went back to the campground and Louie and I decided to try out the camping shower!

Here’s what it looked like:

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It set up quickly, like one of those sun screens you can put on your front windshield! We had a bucket to put the water in, and then added some boiling water to heat it up a bit. The showerhead itself is battery operated and takes water from the bucket up a tube and out the shower head, and it worked surprisingly well. We had to be careful not to spill the water on the ground because of camp regulations, but we stood in a plastic catch basin and did pretty well. It was great to be clean, though I had a hard time washing my hair!

We made dinner and then roasted marshmallows for s’mores!

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Oh, and at one point, we noticed across the creek our neighbors suddenly had a tarp on fire! It was over their firepit, and I guess there was a surge! It was scary at first, but they acted fast and it seemed they quickly got the fire out and nobody was hurt, so we settled back down with a few beers in front of our fire. (Louie is a master of getting a somewhat wet fire going).

After we were relaxing a bit, the storm hit. It started pouring rain around 9:30/10 pm and then never really let up. It had been raining off and on all day, but nothing too bad, and then suddenly it just wouldn’t stop. We tried to hang on in the big tent, but then we realized the floor was wet and parts of the sleeping bag, and UGH, it was just wet. We gave up and all just went to sleep.

The rain continued through the night, with some big storms rolling through. THIS is when camping is pretty annoying and terrible, when the weather isn’t as good. When it’s pleasant and lovely outside, camping is amazing, but inclement weather is just that much harder. But we persevere…even though both Louie and I thought, if it keeps up raining we might give up.

We decided to take a short hike from near the campground called the Cucumber Gap Loop. We started on the Little River Trail to the Cucumber Gap Trail to Jake’s Trail, which would be about 5 miles all together.

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The first part of the trail was really pretty, along a river. There were ruins of old buildings—evidently this area used to be a private club where wealthy people from Knoxville would come out for the summer.

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Build your hearth out of stone and it will last a long time. Wood, not as much. Well, never build your hearth out of wood, actually. Bad idea.

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So many waterfalls in the Smokies!

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April touching what we hoped was springy humus.

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April’s first creek crossing over rocks. She couldn’t believe the trail made us cross on roads. Spoiler Alert: things got worse/harder further in the trip, but this was a fun crossing. I wonder if it was a little harder due to the heavy rains.

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This tree had lifted up the ground! But it just kept trying.

At the end up the hike we passed by more old buildings. And then there was a little area with some buildings that the park service was restoring which used to be part of the Elkmont Club. I find the history equally fascinating to the nature.

April needed to leave that afternoon, so after the hike we went back to the campground to eat lunch. It was sunny so Louie and I hung up all our wet things—if it hadn’t been a sunny afternoon I don’t know that we could have stayed there again, but we managed to get everything dried out over the afternoon! April left around 3, and then Louie and I decided to be a little lazy and just relax at the campground all afternoon. We took a little walk around the campground too, and decided I’d picked one of the best sites for sure! (B-11).

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It was fairly private, close enough to the bathrooms, by the river, and just very pretty.  I could have camped there a few nights longer, and I would return for sure. I read a book and Louie occupied himself, and we felt the stresses of our everyday lives slip away. Or something. At least, we were enjoying ourselves and happy to be out in nature.

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We didn’t stay up too late, because we were tired AND because the next day we had plans: to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge and then to our next stop, Cataloochee Campground.

We woke up and packed up, and headed out. It would be about 30-45 minutes drive to Pigeon Forge, so we waved goodbye to Elkmont Campground, and said “see you soon” to the Park.

To be continued…

Hawn State Park and the Whispering Pines Trail

Since summers can get so busy for me (weddings and other fun work events) I decided to set aside a couple of times in order to have normal fun summer activities. This past weekend I planned a short getaway to Hawn State Park near St. Genevieve, Missouri.

We left on Friday, planning to camp two nights and hike in between and on Sunday morning. We’d wanted to bring Mackenzie (my dog) but it was pretty hot and she just doesn’t do well in the heat (too furry) so we left her at a friend’s house. Louie and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to streamline our camping experience, and this time we’d stored everything, all the odds and ends at least, in a large plastic bin that fit in his trunk, so it was a matter of taking stuff out of the garage, removing stuff from the bin we definitely wouldn’t need, and trusting the rest was there. (It was! This method worked pretty well.) I also planned out meals for Friday night, Saturday day, and Sunday morning, along with some drinks. It was easy planning for a short trip.

Hawn is about 1 1/2 hours away and we got there by 5 pm. We picked up a bundle of firewood just outside of the park but they sold it there, along with ice, so we wouldn’t have had to. I’d reserved site 29, since I wasn’t sure how popular it would be for Father’s Day weekend. It was pretty full but not completely booked when we arrived, but you know me, I’m a planner.

One thing that struck me was just how GREEN it was there. It was a very nice campground, well maintained, and a beautiful state park.

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We set up the tent and then wandered around a little bit, checking out where the trailhead for the hike the next day was. Then we cooked a nice dinner (chili!), sat around the fire, and relaxed. It wasn’t too hot when you weren’t doing anything much, and after the sun went down it was very pleasant. There wasn’t a huge amount of privacy and some of the neighbors were a little annoying, but that’s campground camping for you. Our site was pretty, except the tent backed up to a large patch of poison ivy! Good to avoid.

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There were large wooden poles to hang up your trash on, but the raccoons can scale them. Or at least the raccoon that visited us could. He (or she) came out just after dark, and I didn’t realize until the next day that he’d stolen a plastic bowl and dropped it in the bushes. The following night after dinner he got into our trash and ate an apple core. In any case, he seemed nice, but we didn’t want to feed him!

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Posing with the tent.

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Louie hard at work chopping firewood into smaller pieces.

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My view from my chair.

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Anyway, we had a nice relaxing night, sitting around the fire chatting. We agreed it was good to get out of the world for a bit, to be disconnected and just relax. It’s refreshing when you know you are out of touch (NO service to speak of, data wise-no news, no worries!).

It rained around 6:00 am Saturday, so we waited to get up until 8 am or so. We’d planned to do earlier just to get hiking before the heat of the day, but oh well. Our neighbors were pretty loud (shockingly so for 7 am) but oh well. The good news is the loud ones left that day Smile

We wanted to hike the Whispering Pines Trail, which is 10 miles if you do the north and south loops. The author of my book, 60 hikes within 60 miles recommended starting with the Pickle Creek Trail, and I’m glad we did!

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I believe this was the Pickle Creek.

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10 miles! I forget how far that is when you are walking.

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Why yes, those are purple hiking shorts. Or eggplant, or something.

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There was almost a view. Maybe in the winter.

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So green!

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Cool water area.

IMG_7641The entire hike was buggy, and it was really hot and humid after an hour or so, and we were pretty worried about ticks (we applied liberal amounts of Deep Woods Off), but the Pickle Creek Trail was the best part! It was a nice day, a challenging hike. We packed our usual pb sandwiches for lunch, had trail mix, lots of water, and a few breaks, and by the end I was suffering, but we made it, and lived to tell the tale.

If I did this again, I don’t think I’d do both loops, and I don’t know that I’d want to hike the south loop in the summer, ever again. But in a different season it might be really nice—it was VERY overgrown and often felt like hiking in the jungle (not that I have, but I’d imagine it’s similar, wading through elbow high weeds?)

Afterwards I was thankful the campground had showers and I only found one tiny tick which had not attached itself.  The campground had very nice facilities overall—nice bathrooms (for a campground, to be clear), and there were also vault toilets, I imagine for during the winter.

We relaxed by the fire again for hours after the hike (we hiked from about 9:30 to 3:30) and then made dinner and went to bed eventually.

We were awoken by thunder around 2:30 am. A huge storm swept through, probably at least 1 hour long, of severe weather. Louie and I sat there together in the tent, worrying. There was torrential rain, loud lightning and thunder, and no way to check the radar to see what was happening. Finally it passed and we were able to get back to sleep. The tent stays pretty dry but has some vents that a little wetness gets in through on the sides near the bottom. I was worried about tornados at the time and Louie said later he was worried about a tree or branch falling on us. I told myself that I just didn’t hear of too many people dying in Missouri State Parks in storms…another lighter storm followed that one but nothing too crazy.

Anyway, when morning finally came, we decided to pack up and leave in case there were more storms coming. We didn’t think any more hiking would be very pleasant since the ground was muddy and wet, so we just headed home. It was a nice weekend getaway!

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My view from the tent: I was packed up sleeping bags and pads while Louie made coffee and oatmeal.

Float Trip and Baseball Sized Hail

I never got back to telling you all about my camping trip over Memorial Day weekend. It was meant to be two nights camping with a float trip in between. Louie has some friends that have been organizing the trip for years and years. We went two years ago (it’s not always at the same place) and then last year we were going to go but it got rained out. This year would be different…

We were camping at a place called “One Eyed Willy’s” in Lebanon, Missouri. We brought the dog, Mackenzie (had to get a canoe because no dogs allowed in rafts) and our tent and all our camping gear. We figured we’d be car camping so we didn’t worry too much about what we brought.

When we got to check in the guy behind the desk asked what we drove and we said, well, a Corolla. He guffawed. Evidently the group site we had was on the other side of a creek and he told us we couldn’t drive down there. What to do! We “luckily” met a few members of our party who were up with a pick up truck and we loaded all the contents of our car into the back. It turned out that two people in the group tried to drive their cars down and one hit a large rock and cracked her bumper and another got stuck in the creek and the car was tipping over. I’d like to think we wouldn’t have attempted the crossing in the Corolla, but you just never know.

Anyway, we got all set up and then hung out with everybody around a nice campfire. Mackenzie loves camping, and by that, I mean, she loves going around begging for food: hot dogs, potato chips, whatever. She’s not picky! She doesn’t love the outdoors when she’s not on her turf though, so when I finally brought her into the tent to sleep, she eagerly jumped onto the sleeping bags, getting sand EVERYWHERE (I wish I had a picture of her amazing expression, she was so excited). But she had to sleep on a little yoga mat we brought, and I think it was comfortable enough. Louie stayed up later chatting and the tent was not terribly roomy for the three of us!

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Anyway, the next morning they’d moved the float up because there were supposedly really big storms coming through. I was pretty nervous about this: they kept talking about “baseball-sized hail” and here we were, heading away from the camp to go on the river! They also keep talking about how the gravel bar we were all set up on had flooded earlier in the month, and not just by a little, and the people from the campground suggested everybody move their trucks to higher ground just in case. Our car was already far away on high ground, so we locked some valuables in a pick up (big mistake, you’ll see) and nervously got on the school bus to get a lift upstream. We’d get a canoe, and then 8 miles later be back at the camp. We decided as a group to not dally as much as usual in order to get back, and likely pack up and head home rather than stay another night. I was a little concerned than instead of simply leaving we were insisting on this trip, but I was also determined to have fun.

It rained almost right away when we got started. I had a rain jacket, but poor Mackenzie just sat in the canoe looking miserable. We were the only ones in our group with a canoe (the rest were all in rafts) so we tried to stay with them but it became too difficult and we just decided to do our own thing. It kept raining and not raining, and we just kept going. It was pretty fun, though a nicer day would have been my preference. We got back to the campsite and started packing up. One issue though: our car keys and wallets and such were in our friend’s pickup truck. So we packed up and then we waited. And waited. And then the storm came.

Some members of the group had returned, and as it was pouring, things just got crazy. The campground hosts were taking people up to the top in a school bus, and so Louie decided to start taking our stuff up, get it up there and then find our keys. He headed out with a bunch of stuff and I waited around. It was pretty crazy, I had the dog and tons of camping gear, and neither of us had phones since those were in the truck. We’d found out that there might be a hide-a-key on the truck so Louie was planning to look for that. The school bus came back down and I decided to take the rest of the stuff and make a run for it. It was a mess! I was completely soaked and had Mackenzie, and I got on the school bus and was stuck in the seat with tons of gear all around me trying to get the dog out of the aisle. Luckily she is super cute and friendly and other people were very helpful. We got up the hill and I saw Louie and he hadn’t found the truck, so he headed back down to look again, and I waited then. I started worrying we’d never get our stuff or that we’d get stuck for good, or get lost from one another, so when the school bus showed up again and Louie got off triumphantly showing my purse, I was so relieved!

The next challenge was getting the car out of a dirt parking lot. Keep in mind, it was still pouring, there was mud and gravel all around, and we had ALL of our things with us, that we intended to be using to camp out of our car. But miraculously it all worked—Louie had a little trouble with the car, but he’d recently gotten new tires and I imagine that helped. He pulled up in front of our stuff, we loaded up (Mackenzie was super relieved to lie down in the back seat) and we hit the road. We found out later there had been a tornado in the area, and we did pass some trees that looked like they’d been pulled out by the roots. We were worried about the drive home but the worst of the storm stayed out of our way, though there was quite a lot of rain most of the time.

We got home, unpacked, showered, and hit up the local Mexican resturant, Amigo Joe’s. I decided, never again will I camp somewhere where I need to depend on somebody else to drive me out. Either my car is there or I can carry everything! And never again will I canoe when a huge storm is predicted. But the weekend was an adventure, a team-building exercise (Louie and I prided ourselves on working well together under pressure) and a great story.

I guess, the more you camp and travel, the more ridiculous stories you end up with. Bear attack, hail storms, mosquitos, biting flies, evacuating a campsite in the middle of a storm…it all adds to the travel adventures, right?

Feeling at home in Arches National Park

Next up: Arches National Park!

Previous posts:

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

Moving Along

No Such Thing as a Dead Horse

Day 9 of our trip, according to the itinerary. We finished up looking at Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park and hit the road back towards Moab. It’s about 30 minutes to Moab, which is right near Arches National Park. We decided to make a quick coffee/gelato stop in Moab first before heading back into the wilderness. We also wanted to check email and things like that. In this day and age, it’s hard to go 3 weeks without responding to people, so at least every couple of days we needed to check in! And honestly, after a few straight days of only talking to each other, it’s nice to look at other stuff Smile We had an “incident” later where we’d asked a restaurant if they had wi-fi and the woman said, somewhat self-righteously, “no, we don’t, you’ll just have to talk to each other.” Haha, right? Except get over yourself, we’d been doing nothing but talking to each other for 3 days, and you work in a deserted tourist area where maybe people need to check in for work or just to let their friends and family know they are still alive. But I digress.

We finished up our gelato at a delightful shop that DID have wi-fi and then drove up to Arches. We needed to stop by the visitor’s center to pick up tickets for a ranger led tour we were doing the following day, and whoa, the center was packed! It was a definite change from Canyonlands and Colorado National Monument. We knew Arches was more popular (I guess the beauty is more obvious and you can see more within 10 feet of your car?) but it was still a bit of culture shock.

We had a reservation at Devil’s Garden campground, which was at the very back of the park, about a 20 mile drive, so our plan was to slowly head there while stopping and seeing what interested us. We had the whole day in the park the following day so we knew we’d get to do most of things we wanted.

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Since blogging about this trip has, more than ever, become entirely ridiculous and overwhelming YET I know that I will want this all down in writing to look back at in the future…I’m going to do a lot of photo sharing!

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Many of the rock formations are named. This was called the Three Gossips.

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We took a short walk to get closer to Balanced Rock. The mountains in the background are spectacular. Another thing that really struck us both was how different Arches looked than Canyonlands and Dead Horse even though they are relatively close to each other. What a crazy planet we live on!

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The advent of digital cameras makes this sort of ridiculousness easier. Louie, holding up Balanced Rock.IMG_5739

Seriously, what is this madness??

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Various arches. After checking into the campground we set up the tent and then went on a hike that left from the end of the campground. Oh, we’d hoped to buy firewood to have a fire since we hadn’t been able to for a few days, but they were out! The camp hosts were really great though and told us we could stop by their site and have a few pieces, so we did that. We also found out the campground had had lots of flash flooding the night before, just like at Dead Horse and we were warned to be aware of where we set up our tent. Apparently this was “monsoon season” and flash floods were somewhat common, though the night before had been much more than usual, and some campsites were washed away. We made sure to stake our tent carefully.

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Every arch had a name, but I am bad with names. I think this was Broken Arch though. We also might have seen Tapestry Arch. The hike was a little hard to figure out at first, because it was lots of cairn following, but we managed! We almost got lost at more than one point, but did I mention that it was a lovely cool day in the desert so we probably wouldn’t have died. Just kidding, we only weren’t sure which turn to take and were never too far off from being correct.IMG_5756

This is the view of our campground. Devil’s Garden Campground is one of the most beautiful National Park Campgrounds that I’ve ever seen. Our site (Site 018) was gorgeous too, even though we had trouble finding a flat spot to set up the tent.

Anyway, we finished the hike and then went to relax at our campsite and make dinner.

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We had a lovely fire and relaxed. At one point a small fox (we found out it was a kit fox) came through our campsite, just like one had at Dead Horse! This time we were sort of ready, and Louie took a short video. It was dark though, and you can’t see much. We made a lot of jokes about how the fox didn’t say anything.

We decided to try to wake up to watch the sunrise. We had an amazing view from the tent, and figured this was the time!

Even though I hadn’t slept great because the tent was more slanted than we’d realized and I kept sliding off the pad (oops) I was happy to be awake to get this picture! We also saw several deer who walked non-chalantly through the campsite. It was a beautiful site, but unfortunately we had to move to a different one for the next night (same campground) so after watching the sunrise and breakfast, it was time to pack up. As usual…

Next up: Fiery Furnace, Delicate Arch and more storms!

Nights camping: 7

Miles hiked (estimate): 37

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

 

I suppose I shouldn’t have a dislike of Aspen, but I do! First off, before even going, so many people said, oh, why go to Aspen? Well, we had our family reasons, but UGH after the bear attack…

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Read those first!

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So we spent the day of the bear incident cleaning up. At first we’d thought we’d camp another night and then we realized that was crazy…the bear KNEW our car would have food and now it was even less secure. So we managed to crash at Louie’s dad’s place for a night, but frankly, we were cranky and tired and ready to leave.

The next morning we did, after loading up. We had breakfast at the Main Street Bakery, which would have been really nice except I suddenly wasn’t feeling well and ended up sitting outside on a bench for most of the meal. Altitude sickness? Definitely not morning sickness, which was what a woman at the “community table” suggested to me.

Louie and I were headed to Rocky Mountain National Park next. Yes, it was backtracking, but that’s how we did it. Don’t judge. We had a reservation for two nights at Moraine Campground, which was a different campground than we stayed at the previous year. We decided to leave Aspen via Independence Pass which is a pretty fantastic drive!

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Things that are truly awful: the vault toilets at the parking lot for the top of Independence Pass.

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I was starting to feel a bit better, but not great. Louie drove since I am terrified of mountain driving and he loves it. I won’t lie, some of our fun and excitement was gone. We were tired and stressed, we couldn’t use one of the doors of the car, and we were worried that another bear would attack the car. And now we were driving several hours back east to go somewhere that we didn’t even know if we wanted to go.

We’d been to Rocky Mountain National Park the year before and we’d figured why not return for another short visit. We’d really only have one full day there, but it seemed worth it in the planning stages. Naturally everything took longer than I planned (things to remember) but I think we were still happy, deep down Winking smile

We came into the park from the West side. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. This was on the Trail Ridge Road, in case you are trying to recreate our trip. Oh, and I should mention, before getting to the park, we made a few stops along the way to try to get a new cooler, since the bear ruined ours. The day before we’d looked around Aspen for one, but everything was super expensive. We ended up buying a $4 styrofoam one to tide us over, figuring we’d easily find a cheaper one. That was a mistake. We saw a $350 cooler at Bed, Bath and Beyond…made the $75 cooler at the hardware store in Aspen look like a bargain! We finally found a reasonably priced one at a Target, but it was small. Oh well.

So we came in on the Trail Ridge Road from the West Side, like I started to tell you a minute ago. Most visitors enter the park on the East Side, so this was definitely the less crowded way to do it! The entrance gate was closed when we arrived so we didn’t get to flash our season pass. I guess probably we were supposed to show it somewhere but it was pretty unclear.

I wanted us to immediately get into tourist/photo taking mood, but it was hard. Louie was tired, I was tired, and we were just worried and stressed. We stopped and enjoyed the views (the Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in the US, I believe) but mostly we wanted to get to the campsite and possibly just go to sleep.

By 6:00 or so we got to the Moraine Campground. I’d booked us a “walk-in” site, which seemed like a good idea at the time—the description said you would have to walk a bit from your car to the campsite, which I figured gave more privacy and quiet. What we didn’t realized was that it was up a hill, not terribly private, and that there wasn’t a very convenient bear box (metal box bears can’t open for you to store your food.)

On the one hand, we had a great story. On the other hand, we didn’t want to leave any open food or scented items in the car and we were stressed. We managed to organize things and make room in a nearby bearbox, and we set up our tent, and finally relaxed a bit. Our plan was to get up very early and do a hike out of the Bear Lake Trailhead. Bear Lake is a very popular Trailhead, so we wanted to get there by 7 am or so.

So, we got up, had a quick breakfast, and got moving. People tend to get up early in campgrounds and this one was no exception. I’d slept okay, except I could hear a nearby person snoring! The privacy was not great. We were on the top of a little rocky hill, which was cool, but hard to get to the car or the bathroom!

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There was a rainbow shortly after we arrived though, which was very pretty.

Oh, and a raven or magpie ate one of our sandwiches! I’d packed two and put them in baggies on the table…and when we weren’t looking a bird knocked one on the ground and pecked at it! So I had to pack another, but that was okay.

We got to the parking lot at the Trailhead quite early, maybe by 6:45/7 am. It was only 1/3 to 1/2 full, but by the time we were “geared up” and got our boots on the lot was full! There is a shuttle system you can use, but it didn’t seem terribly convenient from our campground so we wanted to drive if possible. And here’s where blogging a month later (almost) makes you forget things! I recall Louie drove in his pajamas to the trailhead to save time, but I don’t remember what time we got up, nor did I make a note of it. Oh well.

I’d selected the “4 lakes loop” for our day hike. It seemed like it covered a good bit of ground that we hadn’t hiked in the past and would be a gorgeous way to spend the day. We weren’t disappointed!

We “warmed up” by walking around Bear Lake first. It was very pretty and the air was nice and cool.

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We had to do a bit of climbing to get to Nymph Lake, but it was very pretty with all the lilies. This part of the hike was pretty crowded with people, but we knew that would be the case. We did all the add on portions of the hike too: Bear, Nymph, Dream, Emerald (had a lovely snack in a private area near Emerald lake and rested for 20 minutes or so—it was nice to avoid people for a bit!), then Lake Haiyaha-the hike up to that lake was absolutely gorgeous with amazing views! After Lake Haiyaha we went to Mills Lake which was my favorite and went to Jewel Lake too, which was a little anticlimatic. We had lunch sitting by Mills Lake and rested for awhile. Louie walked around to an island nearby but I wasn’t up for going off path. After a long rest there we headed back down, past Alberta Falls (we’d been there the year before) and then a long uphill from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead back to Bear Lake and our car, which was still there and not re-attacked by Bears!

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Looking down on Nymph Lake

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I believe this was Dream Lake

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And I believe this was Emerald Lake.

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Hiking towards Lake Haiyaha. Lots of lakes in view!

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Almost missed this amazing view which was just a little ways off the trail.

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Mills Lake…just gorgeous.

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Louie exploring the island—can you see him? We could hear each other talking the whole time. Alpine Lakes are seriously the best. He said there were lots of cobwebs.

Anyway, as much as I’m terrible at describing hikes (or just not in the mood Winking smile/already forgot) it was a great hike! I think it took us about 7 hours with lots of stops, and we had a great time.

We got back to the camp and just relaxed for the rest of the day. One thing we didn’t see much of was WILDLIFE. The previous year we’d seen ton, but we just didn’t see much. (of course we’d had quite a lot of evidence of wildlife, but very few sightings.)

The next morning we got up early to head out. We were heading west to Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument. In the early hours of the morning we woke up to the sound of whooping and howling—we realized it was a bunch of coyotes making a lot of racket!

Anyway, it was a nice but short visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. I think I preferred our campground the year before (Glacier Basin) but it was nice to try something new. The bathrooms were pretty dirty and the dumpsters were overflowing! We had a nice fire each night though, and Colorado is just gorgeous.

This part of the trip was emotionally difficult for me. I felt like the bear had really stolen our excitement and happiness, and we were just worried what else would go wrong. I felt tired already and that I hadn’t planned well enough (it might be true, but still, I should have been enjoying the moment!) and that I was just worried more things would go wrong. 2016 has been one thing going wrong after another…but this was a vacation! No time for complaining, time for fun! (And rolling thermarest mattresses, so much rolling of mattresses.)

Camping days: 4

Hiking miles (best estimate): 22