I visited friends in Charlotte, NC in late March. The weather was beautiful, so we went for a morning hike around Lake Wylie in McDowell Nature Center and Preserve.
In the afternoon, my friend gave me a brief walking tour of uptown Charlotte. We relaxed in a quiet literary-themed pocket park called The Green. I enjoyed the book sculptures and colorful mosaic stools.
Speaking of mosaics, the Firebird sculpture in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is a sparkling mosaic wonder, reflecting bits and pieces of everything around it.
We went to Red Mountain Open Space again in early September. Since the summer was so dry, this time the water level of the stream was much lower, and we were able to easily cross the stream with dry feet and little kid in tow. We enjoyed hiking farther into the canyon before said little kid got tired.
At the end of August we hiked and camped (and the little ones rode their bikes) at beautiful Vedauwoo, Wyoming.
On the Turtle Rock trail, the kids enjoyed climbing and sliding on some large rocks, and we saw aspens, a beaver pond, and of course awesome rock formations. Vedauwoo is a very popular rock climbing spot, and though no one in our group was prepared for it, we enjoyed watching other folks climbing up the huge rocks.
Our campsite was huge, and it was nice to spend the night there and see the rocks change color as the sun went down. Those who were awake after dark (not me!) said the view of the stars was amazing. The next morning, we hiked the Box Canyon trail, which had some huge rocks that the kids enjoyed exploring.
It was a great little camping trip, and such an easy drive from Fort Collins. I’m sure we’ll return for hiking and camping in the future.
We went for a morning hike around Saratoga Spa State Park during our visit in early August. Our first stop was the Island Spouter.
Next we explored the Orenda Spring’s huge mineral bank, which has an amazing texture if you look closely.
Toward the end of our hike, we were able to hear a bit of the Philadelphia Orchestra practicing for their upcoming performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), and strolled through a sports and exotic car show. What a varied experience in one lovely park!
We went camping in Colorado State Forest State Park for a weekend in early July. Almost as soon as we turned onto the dirt road that would take us to the North Michigan Reservoir camping area, we saw a tiny baby deer in the road, followed soon after by its mother. I can’t think of a better welcome to a park! As we got settled in our campsite, we had lots of hummingbird and chipmunk visitors. And when we walked down to the reservoir so the kids could throw some rocks in the water, we saw several fish jump up! The reservoir was very lovely, but swimming isn’t allowed. Maybe someday we’ll come back with a kayak or canoe to enjoy the water a little more!
As night approached, our neighbors told us that there was a fox that liked to check all of the campsites for snacks at night and in the early morning. Of course we were careful not to leave any food out overnight, and I heard some little fox-sized footsteps near our tent in the early morning. I also heard an owl, and a friend that we shared the campsite with thinks she heard a moose.
The next morning we took a nice kid-friendly hike around several beaver lodges.
We didn’t see any beavers or other people on the trail, but we saw so many beautiful wildflowers! The flowers along the trail were very fragrant as we hiked.
We had a great time, but this particular state park is well known for having lots of moose, and I hoped that by staying overnight we would have a good chance of spotting a few moose. We will just have to return another time to see some moose!
If you’re looking for a beautiful place to go hiking and have a picnic, but don’t want to deal with a full parking lot and crowded trails, this is the place for you.
Some other important facts: you need to drive on dirt roads to get there, you’ll probably get your feet wet trying to cross a stream, dogs are not allowed, but horses are welcome.
We visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in August. It’s a uniquely beautiful place, and though we were worried that it might be unpleasantly hot that time of year, the weather was very comfortable (high temperature each day in the low 80s). There is a creek that flows at the base of the sand dunes, and we expected that it would be dry by that time of year, but a wide shallow stream was still flowing. The stream was really fun for little ones to play in, and pleasant for everyone to cool their feet in. We also rented sand sleds and had fun sledding down the dunes. We briefly attempted hiking up the tallest dunes (which are the tallest in North America!), but there was a lot of wind during the morning we made the attempt, and hiking through sandstorm-like conditions was not our idea of a good time. This National Park is not super well known, and rather isolated, so we enjoyed that it was not crowded.
We stayed at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge, the only non-camping option near the park. Check out the lovely view from our patio at the Lodge, and our hummingbird friend! The Lodge was perfect for us: a quick drive from our area of interest, with a quiet room including a small fridge and microwave, and an indoor pool in case we needed an indoor activity during our stay. Our two-year-old loved the “sand dudes” and proclaimed that she wanted to live there!
While in Newfoundland, we spent a day in Gros Morne National Park. First we hiked along the base of The Tablelands, a flat-topped mountain that was pushed up from the earth’s mantle. This mantle-originating rock lacks the nutrients that support plant life, so it looks interestingly barren in an otherwise plant and tree-covered landscape.
Next we went for the “Lookout Hike,” which was a good uphill climb. Here’s the view from the lookout (I put together a panorama using Hugin, an easy-to-use free program that works on Macs):
You can see The Tablelands on the right – the reddish flat mountain. We had a wonderful day, but were a bit disappointed that we didn’t see any moose. People that we ran into on the trail mentioned that they saw moose near the lookout, but we weren’t so lucky. At least we saw quite a few pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that is the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I wish we had more time to spend in Gros Morne, because there are many beautiful hikes that I would have enjoyed, and I also would have liked to take a day cruise to see the fjords along the coast. If you get a chance to visit Gros Morne National Park, go there for a few days!
It’s been a little while since I’ve used one of The Daily Post at WordPress‘ prompts. Here’s one that I liked: describe your dream vacation. I have a lot of dream vacations, but I’ve narrowed this post down to my three favorites.
1. The Grand Canyon and The Wave: Hiking and Incredible Rock Formations. This one requires a lot of planning ahead, and some luck. I want to hike down into the Grand Canyon and spend the night in the lodge, then hike back up the next day. But rumor has it that one needs to make reservations to stay in the lodge at least a year in advance. As for The Wave, a very limited number of people are allowed to hike around The Wave each day, so hopeful hikers have to enter a permit lottery. Hopefully someday I can make this all come together for an amazing trip.
2. Machu Picchu/The Inca Trail and Iguazu Falls: Super Duper South America Trip. Like Stonehenge, Machu Picchu is one of those places that looks so mystical and cool that one just hopes for the opportunity to see it in real life. Iguazu Falls, a spectacular cluster of waterfalls located at the Argentina-Brazil border, is pretty far away from Machu Picchu…but since we’re talking dream vacations, I think combining these two destinations would make for an incredible trip.
3. Hawaii: Beaches and Volanoes. I’m not the type to chill on the beach for my whole vacation, but I think a trip to Hawaii would offer a nice balance of hiking and exploring cool tropical areas, along with some time to relax on the beautiful beaches and maybe even catch some waves.
A few years ago, Jeff and I visited our good friends who were living in Punta Arenas, Chile. We had a wonderful trip, and our favorite part of the trip was when we went to Torres del Paine National Park. We rented a car and made the 6ish hour drive north from Punta Arenas to the national park. For about half of the drive, you’re on a dirt road and you might see things like this:
The park itself is amazing. We hiked and camped and took a short cruise to see a glacier. I think we could have stayed there for weeks and not seen everything.
After all that hiking and camping, we were dying for some real food. Puerto Natales, the closest town to Torres del Paine (about a 3 hour drive), did not disappoint.
We stumbled upon El Living, saw the sign outside proclaiming great vegetarian food (in English, no less!), and had a fantastic dinner. Hooray for delicious vegetarian food in Patagonia!