Monday, October 18, 2021

Day 5-9: Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall

Scary-sounding name for a beautiful vista and trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
When we polled our friends on how to make the most of a US East Coast Fall foliage tour, one of the most repeated suggestions: driving the Blue Ridge ParkwayThe Parkway runs 469 miles through the Great Smoky Mountain portion of the Appalachians, through North Carolina and Virginia, where it links to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. To make the most of it, split it up over at least a few days, like we did.

My video will give you a one-minute tour of some of our highlights.

One of my favorite highlights not in the video is getting a good smooch from Wayne atop Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the US west of the Mississippi. Why not?

The Parkway also is rich in pioneer history. A cabin shown in the video is the former home of Orlean Hawks Puckett, born in 1844. As a midwife, she delivered over 1,000 babies. She lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two, though she lost all of her own twenty-four children. 

Asheville, North Carolina is one great area to bail off the Parkway. While Asheville's renowned for its thriving art scene and a foodie mecca, we were most interested in catching up with our friend Steve.
Me, Wayne and Steve on the Tanbark trail just outside Asheville, NC on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Steve played tour guide around Asheville, and we also popped up to the university's tiny but free botanical gardens.

Canoeists on Asheville NC's French Broad River.
After Asheville, we popped back onto the Parkway with the intent of driving the whole shebang then continuing into Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive. 

However, road construction kept us from completing the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
Instead, we took a couple of long detours to reconnect after short stretches of road closures along the Blue Ridge.
Fog. We saw more of this on the Blue Ridge Parkway than we anticipated.

Driving through clouds also messed with our enjoyment of the Blue Ridge Parkway's scenic vistas, as well as putting a damper on our plans to camp along the way. We took solace in the vibrant reds of dogwoods and maples, the bright orange of sycamores, and buttery yellow birch leaves. Foggy or not, the fall foliage was still gorgeous.

Location Location

We're currently in Oswego New York. We've spent most of our trip out of wifi range. More catch-up blog posts are on the way.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Day 3-4: Gorge-ous Park in Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park


Overlook, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia.
After two nights in a motel in South Georgia because we couldn't nab a campsite on Cumberland island, we were itching for a night in the great outdoors. Tallulah Gorge State Park or Cloudland were my two top picks. With Asheville, NC as our next stop, Tallulah fit the bill best.
Our campsite, we had it all to ourselves.
We arrived in just enough time to sort out our backpacking gear, hike up to our campsite, set up, cook dinner, and do dishes before sunset.

Wayne at Tallulah Gorge overlook in the morning. We didn't see another soul until 9:30 am.
Trail steps across the canyon, on the other side of Tallulah Gorge.
There are some advanced hikes that require permits to head down into the Gorge bottom. We didn't have time for that this time around.
Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.
My big draw to Tallulah Gorge was its suspension bridge. Alas, I have a talent for planning park trips when the suspension bridges are closed.

Blocked: Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.
The bridge was closed for three days, including our two days there.
A few of the steps to Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.
You could still hike down to the bridge. Lotsa steep steps to do so.
A glimpse of the water under the bridge was all I could see.
A teaser of a view.
Under Tallulah Gorge suspension bridge.

Still, pretty enough to be worth the fifteen or so minutes to see what I could and rejoin the upper rim trail.
Fall foliage inspired our trip, but other beauties abounded.
Two Tampa Florida area gals who do flower pressings from wherever they travel.
Everyone we chatted with along the trail was friendly.
Pollinators, still busy in the fall.
Guessing the gals were careful where they picked.
One of seven waterfalls in Tallulah Gorge.

The views along the ridge trail were terrific.
Close-up of the colorful lichen on a rock overhang in Tallulah Gorge.
Dam work prevented access to other park areas.

Guess all that means is we'll have to return someday!

Location Location
These were taken at Tallulah Gorge State Park, in Northwest Georgia, September 29-30 2021.

By the time this posts, we expect to be out of range, camping in West Virginia.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Day 2: Low Country—South Georgia & Cumberland Island


Wild horses at Georgia's Cumberland Island
As the crow flies, Georgia's Cumberland Island and St. Marys practically touches North Florida's Fernandina Beach, which is nearly a beachy burb of Jacksonville (JAX) Florida. But somewhere between JAX and St. Marys you enter an alternative universe—the lowlands ecosystem. 

Cumberland Island Salt Marsh boardwalk.
There's an ethereal, magical quality to the low country light  . . . the South's marshland. In the fall, it's at its most majestic, though less so mid-day (when we were there).

There are some advantages to the calm, mid-day light.
At the water's edge of the Sea Islands of Georgia, Cumberland Island, GA.
Somewhere in the past, I recall seeing images of horses galloping in the mist—the wild horses of Cumberland Island. Technically, the ponies there today may be wild, in the same way a manatee (and Wayne saw one in the salt marsh), "the sea cows" are wild, as they calmly focus on getting their grub and chewing their cud.

This Cumberland Island pony's expression cracked me up.

This cattle egret hangs out unafraid at the heels of one horse and the head of another.
It's waiting to see what bugs get unearthed as the horses graze.
Once inhabited by American Indians, the rich biodiversity of Cumberland provided a steady supply of food for them and the European settlers who followed. Locally available materials like oyster shells were used to make tabby. a type of concrete, used for stucco walls.

Tabby wall in St. Marys, Georgia, across the river from Cumberland Island.
Thomas Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie purchased a large tract of property on Cumberland in the late 1800s as a winter retreat

A fire destroyed the Carnegies' Cumberland Island mansion; its ruins remain.
Thomas began building a massive mansion there. His wife Lucy oversaw its completion after Thomas died, while she raised their nine children.

Domesticated trees like magnolias and massive native oak trees draped in Spanish moss continue 
to thrive on Cumberland Island.
Our original intent was to camp on the wilder side of Cumberland Island's National Seashore, but the campsites were already full. We opted for a day trip instead, catching the early ferry from St. Marys.

We took the Cumberland ferry from St. Marys to Cumberland Island and back.
Cost: $60+tax for two, round-trip. The ferry makes the trip thrice daily.

The small outdoor amphitheater at Cumberland Island National Seashore's Sea Camp.
The "wild horses" were our first sight upon debarking. After meandering down the Spanish moss-draped trails, past the Dungeness mansion ruins, along the salt marsh boardwalk, we headed into the dunes.
Dunes at Cumberland Island Seashore, south Georgia.
Cumberland is part of a chain of barrier islands that help protect Georgia's mainland from ocean storms. The dunes protect the island itself.

Empty horseshoe crab shell on the Cumberland Island shore.
Along the seashore, it seemed we couldn't walk more than fifteen feet without seeing a horseshoe crab shell. They were all empty. Our best guess is it was horseshoe crab molting season. Many of the shells were over a foot across.

Tern on channel marker near St. Marys.
After a warm walk in the sunshine, we caught the mid-afternoon ferry back, our appetite whetted to plan further ahead next time, far enough out to secure a camping site. We may also splurge for the Land and Legacy Tour there, as the folks who took it raved about it.

Odd and incongruous memento left at the cemetery in St. Marys, Georgia.

St. Marys, rich in local history, is also worth more time than we allotted this trip. We wish the motels near the ferry weren't three times the price of the charmless chain we opted for in nearby Kingsland. Ideally, we'd like to camp, anyway. We'll definitely be back.

Location Location

We are car-tripping from September 27th to November 1st, starting and ending in Fort Pierce, Florida, with Niagara Falls as our furthest possible destination this trip.

We are currently in Asheville, North Carolina, and plan to head north next, rather than through the Great Smokey Mountains due to rain.

More soon, including photos of Tallulah Gorge, one of Georgia's most beautiful state parks.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Fall Foliage Road Trip Day 1: Bye-Bye Florida, Hello, Georgia


Jacksonville Florida's cable-stayed Dames Point Bridge towers over the St. John's river at 175 feet high
We've crossed
under that bridge quite a few times—in our sailboat.

Today's goal: hit the road at 8 am, book a ferry in St. Mary's to Cumberland Island National Seashore for tomorrow, and see with the parks office to see if any campsites opened up. 

Bye-bye Florida, we're northbound at last.

We stopped off at Fernandina Beach seashore along the way to stretch our legs. Then we stopped at Eagan's Creek Park to enjoy a close-up view of the vivid green verdant low country.  Wayne spotted a 'gator; got a photo but with its back to us, not that interesting a shot. I'll post it anyway if anyone's interested; let me know.

Crossed the border into Georgia. We'll see if we can find a farmer's stand with Georgia peaches.

No luck on a Cumberland campsite, but tomorrow's ferry's booked. We'll get in a good day hike tomorrow, heading out on the first ferry of the day, and leaving on the last.

Let the adventures begin!

Location Location
We're at Kingston, Georgia tonight and tomorrow night, as it's the town next to St. Mary's, where the ferry to Cumberland Island Seashore picks up and drops off Cumberland Island visitors.

Saturday, September 25, 2021


Photo by Vladimir Tomić on Unsplash

Tomorrow we vacate the house-sit where we've been since mid-July. We're so grateful to Julene for trusting us with her home and her adorable kitty, Shiva, who we fell in love with during our time with her.

Monday morning bright and early, we're hitting the road, northbound for fall foliage, not returning to Fort Pierce Florida until November 1st (unless we decide to come back earlier).

We're stoked; our timing for this trip is right on target, according to this cool interactive leaf guide, updated annually.

Wayne's agreed to my request to do exactly what the dog in the image above is doing—jump into a big pile of fall leaves. I will post that when we do, and more.

For those of you who already offered what-to-do and where-to-go suggestions, thank you! We are still flexible in our plans, so if anyone else has any must-see stop recommendations between Georgia and Niagara Falls for a couple of outdoor lovers, please share.

More soon! We invite you to travel with us vicariously as we drive, hike, backpack, camp, and in general, explore the US East in its autumn finery, visiting friends and family along the way. 

Happy fall!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Another Little Miracle of Kindness from a Stranger

Shiva kitty climbing Julene's lanai screen.
Shiva's an agile climber, she can make it up to the ceiling with ease.
It would be an understatement to say we've been lucky. We were wondering what to do when our boat sold when our friend Julene at Sunnier Palms offered up her place while she was going traveling for a couple of months. All we had to do was hang out in our favorite place, feed and love up Julene's adorable kitten Shiva, and if a hurricane came make sure everything was as tucked away as possible.

Amazingly, when you open the lanai door
Shiva will poke her head into opening
to greet you, but make no attempt to bolt.
Julene took Shiva in as a stray. When we came to house-sit, Shiva was thirteen weeks old. Now, at over five months old, she's had her first heat; we'd consider her a cat, though still adorable. We asked the vet if Shiva would still be able to climb the lanai screens if she got her toenails trimmed. Yep, they said with conviction, giving me the sense that lanai climbing kitties are not at all unique to the area.

This is what we're hoping to find on our road trip starting in a little over a week.
Photo credit: Taryn Elliot from Pexels pexels-taryn-elliott-5182568.jpeg
Next week Julene returns and we plan to head north for a month, chasing the fall foliage along the east coast.  We're pretty psyched about the trip; we expect to see the foliage in peak season according to this interactive fall foliage map link sent to us from our friend Jay via Facebook.

But with our boat sold, what were we going to do after that? We have an offer in on a place at Sunnier, but it won't be available until December, if not later. Folks at Sunnier suggested we ask "Farmer Rick" about borrowing his RV. His RV was stored in Sunnier's storage yard.

Home as of November. Our road trip in October will be by car, not RV.
We've never met Rick, but with his permission, Sunnier management gave us his phone number. We called. "Sure," he said, "You're welcome to borrow my RV.

We'll find a way to make it up to you, we promised.

 Don't worry about it, he told us, saying he looked forward to meeting us once he made the trek down from his farm in Vermont.

Power cord for Rick's RV. Since fixed, courtesy's Wayne's electrical skills.
Rick's RV sat for two years unused in Sunnier's storage area. The solar charger for it got disconnected, leaving it with a dead battery. Yup, we're on our way for finding ways to make Rick glad he loaned us his RV, which is quite nice and roomy, with lots of storage. We're already setting Rick's trailer up so that when Julene returns all our stuff will be out and her place will feel like home to her again.

Sunrise seen from Julene's front yard. Home sweet home . . . for one more week.
We hope Julene won't be too horrified at the changes while Shiva was under our care. We believe Shiva's mohawk with chartreuse and fuschia dye looks quite fetching on her. Okay, maybe we didn't play hairdresser with Shiva, and we swear we didn't teach her to climb the lanai screens and even broke her of the habit of getting on kitchen countertops. However, we are guilty of her new love affair with ice cubes (which she plans to take to the next level by requesting tuna daiquiris for breakfast), and her field hockey talent, honed by playing with bottle caps. 
Shiva still bites, but much less often and much more gently.
Julene could relate to this, and so can we.
"Couldn't she learn some kind of a non-kill game?" Wayne asked. "How about a nice game of chess?" he added, channeling War Games.

All kidding aside, we're really gonna miss Shiva. We kinda fell in love with her.
When we return to Sunnier, we'll be in lot 51 (which we plan to rename Area 51), which we figure means more miracles may happen, this time, perhaps from aliens. Like Shiva, we're counting on them being friendly.

Is this what will happen to our campsite in Area 51, Sunnier Palms, Fort Pierce, Florida?
Photo credit F. Delventhal,
Meanwhile, the other night (September 15th), our neighbors at Sunnier flagged us down to see the SpaceX Inspiration 4 launch take off and watch the first stage rocket separation. 
SpaceX Inspiration 4 rocket with four civilian passengers.
Photo credit John Karuas.
I can't claim my fall foliage photos will be as spectacular as John Karuas' SpaceX photos, but I'm betting if you watch this space for future posts. we'll find something pretty enough to make it worth your while