Some of my favorite days for hiking are the sunny, warmish days we occasionally have during the winter. Although there isn’t typically a lot of color, I find the bare, neutral tone forest very relaxing. Plus it’s very quiet, other than maybe the sound of the breeze.
One of our favorite places to hike nearby is Roaring River. We’ve been there a thousand times but I always enjoy it, especially now that the girls are old enough that I don’t have to carry them up that incredibly steep hill on the Devils Kitchen trail. Here are a few photos from the day…
We started our afternoon with a picnic along the river. A few people were trout fishing in the clear blue water.
I had Steph take this photo of me. Bridget and Andy gave me this super cool shirt which I felt like was appropriate to wear on this hike.
This has been a favorite spot of mine for as long as I can remember. It’s fun to climb around with my girls on the same rocks and explore the same caves and passageways as I did when I was their age.
Inside the “kitchen”, the girls were able to squeeze through several passages that I couldn’t fit through.
We finished the day by feeding the trout and hiking up to the top of the Deer Leap trail. And then hitting up DQ on the way home. What a great Saturday!
A few years ago I saw on the news where a bicycle tour was finishing in Joplin. It was a Biking Across Kansas tour, which to me sounded awesome. I tried for several years to find someone “enthusiastic” enough to participate in such an event but had little, actually no success. Until 2 years ago when I mentioned it to my cousin’s husband, who quickly jumped on board with the idea even though he didn’t own a road bike.
So we planned for 2016 and he spent last year getting a bike and doing some practice rides. As of this past weekend we are both registered for BAK 2016!
BAK is a week long tour crossing the sunflower state from Colorado to Missouri. The route varies each year, generally between 450-550 miles, stopping in small towns along the way, but always traveling west to east to take advantage of the prevailing winds and the fact that the elevation in western Kansas is a few thousand feet higher than the east. They transport your gear for you and most people camp or sleep on cots in school gymnasiums along the way. While Kansas has a reputation of being exceedingly flat, it is actually quite hilly in many places.
I realize this sounds tortuous to most people but I am genuinely excited about it. If you think it sounds like fun too you can register here! Biking Across Kansas
One of my goals for our trip to the Smokies was to find some time and climb a mountain. It’s been several years since I have had the satisfaction of summiting a noteworthy peak, so I was feeling long overdue for such a thing. After researching various options and weighing numerous factors such as proximity to where we were staying, length of hike, views and sights along the trail, I finally decided on Mt. Leconte. There are many different ways to reach the summit of this peak, but I chose the Alum Cave trail (which does not actually feature any caves).
The trail was long (almost 13 miles round trip) and steep, with a total of 3,400′ of elevation gain.
This sign was a little misleading because Mt. Leconte has 4 peaks along it’s summit, and the one I was headed to was a full mile beyond the point where this mileage was taken from.
The first mile or so of the Alum Cave trail climbed uphill along a small stream. I am a sucker for clear blue pools of water in streams so I walked around this spot for entirely too long trying to find it’s best angle. As usual, when I later started sorting my photos, the best one was the first one.
This was a neat point where the trail crossed the stream and climbed a set of stairs that went up through a steep cave like feature at the base of the mountain. This spot vaguely reminded me of the place I hiked this past summer in the Ozarks.
After about 2.5 miles I reached Alum Cave – which is not a cave, but still a cool spot. It’s a very tall overhang, or alcove and in other times of the year is probably swarming with hikers. On New Years Day it was just me and this other couple. It was one of those rare times when I deliberately framed a stranger in my shot because it gives some sense of scale to the scene.
The trail follows along the side of Peregrine Peak, though it doesn’t quite cross the summit. Still, there were some really beautiful views from the trail, especially with most of the foliage down for the winter.
Most of the trail beyond Alum Cave looked a lot like this, with occasional views and some places with narrow ledges and steep drop offs.
Here was a beautiful view looking down in the vicinity of Newfound Gap, which the day before had seemed really high. Now looking down on that area, it didn’t look very high anymore. The view into North Carolina looked like the “smoky” mountains I always pictured in my mind.
Once on the summit of Leconte, there really weren’t many views to be had. It was covered with a dense forest of Frasier Fir trees. Though I was looking forward to some expansive vistas, the smell and beauty of a Fir forest is quite splendid. I actually think Fir trees smell the best of any conifer. If you don’t believe me, next time you are int he mountains, pick a few needles and crush them between your fingers. It is the best smell you will ever find. But first make sure you learn to distinguish between a Fir and a Spruce. And if you are doing this experiment out west, be aware that a Douglas Fir is not actually a Fir.
Here is “High Point”, one of four peaks along the summit of Leconte, and as you may guess, it’s the highest point of the mountain. But aside from the pile of rocks, it was not a particularly interesting spot.
Another half a mile or so past High Point is where the trail started getting super awesome. This narrow walkway leads out to Myrtle Point, which offered the most incredibly view I had seen in my entire visit to the Smokies. It was about 300′ lower than High Point but was truly spectacular. Plus the trail getting out to the point followed this narrow ridge with fairly steep drop offs on BOTH sides. My favorite.
Looking from Myrtle Point, I could see the clouds below as well as the other higher parts of the Smokies, and even some distant ridges and peaks further west in to Tennessee. The point offered views similar to this in nearly every direction and it really was impossible to capture it with a photo so I didn’t even try. I just sat on a rock, at lunch, and soaked it all in.
After leaving Myrtle Point, I followed a sign pointing to “Cliff Tops”, which lead as you might guess to the tops of some really tall cliffs. The views from here were equally as inspiring as Myrtle Point though without the cool sky path to get out there.
I aways try and take photos of dangerous or precarious parts of trails so I can scare my mom. So here is a place where the trail consisted of a narrow rock ledge with a cable to hold on to. It really wasn’t that scary, though if there had been ice and no handhold, it would have been.
In the higher parts of the mountain I enjoyed the Yellow Birch, a tree species I don’t often see.
Back down closer to the parking lot there were several huge trees, including this Hemlock. Again, a case where I was glad to have these people in front of me to add some perspective to the shot.
So all things considered, it was a successful hike and got me ready for my next adventure, whatever it may be!
We went to the Smoky Mountains, a national park that I have oddly enough never visited. Being winter, I wasn’t sure if there would be a ton of great photo opportunities, since the Smokies are somewhat similar to the Ozarks in that winter is a time with a lot of drab brown and grey color. But it was still beautiful and we enjoyed some great hikes!
Here we are taking the typical entrance sign photo.
We stopped at a roadside turnout to checkout a waterfall area called the Sinks. Emma and Papa went off on their own for a little bit to explore. Something I liked about the Smoky Mountains was the very tall and straight Yellow Poplar trees, one of my favorite tree species! I’d like to see them with their leaves on!
Something I enjoyed about the area was the many streams. It seemed like every trail we hiked included a stream like this!
The girls found this nice quiet spot to hang out for a bit and throw some rocks and draw in the sand. The rhododendrons added in some nice greenery in the otherwise brown forest setting.
A lot of the trees were covered with moss around the bases. Not quite to the extent of the trees in Ireland, but many of the sights in the Smokies did remind me of Killarney National Park. Oddly enough the rhododendrons that are so beloved in the smokies are considered an invasive problem in Ireland.
Most, if not all of the trails we hiked had one of more of these log type bridges.
We did a hike up to Laurel Falls, which was pretty crowded even during the winter. I can’t imagine what it would be like on a summer weekend! Being easily accessible and well known, it’s one of those hikes where you see all kinds of people that don’t appear to be very comfortable or knowledgeable with regards to being outside in nature. I have also never seen so many people using selfie sticks!
One morning we headed over to Cades Cove, a pretty valley with a road that loops around through various early settlements. This is generally one of the most crowded areas of the park but it wasn’t bad today! It was one of the few sunny days during our trip so it was nice to have a clear view of the mountains around the valley.
I hiked up to Abrams falls with Randy, Emma and Eily-Beth. It was a long hike, close to 6 miles round trip and with some pretty brutal elevation changes. But the girls did great and enjoyed hanging out at the waterfall. Although this trail wasn’t nearly as crowded as Laurel Falls, it was still pretty busy and we again saw a lot of weird things like people hiking in business or club attire and heels, smoking while hiking (never seen that before – must be an Appalachia thing), or families struggling to carry a 50 pound ice chest (instead of a backpack) for a picnic at the waterfall. It was fairly entertaining.
Another late afternoon view of the mountains from Cades Cove.
One morning we drove up to Newfound Gap, which is a low point in a mountain ridge. It’s what I have usually heard referred to as a “pass”. The elevation here was about 5,000′ which doesn’t sound very high to me but in terms of total relief, the smoky mountains rise close to 6000′ above the surrounding area, which actually isn’t much different than Rocky Mountain National Park.
The highest elevations in the Smokies (above 5,000) is where the deciduous hardwood forests transition into evergreen forest that I typically associate with “mountains”.
The other cool thing about Newfound Gap is that it’s also the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. North Carolina was one of the few states I had not been do, so I was able to check #46 off my list! Unfortunately the sign is located in the middle of the parking lot so the backdrop isn’t very spectacular.
I cannot remember what this place was called but it’s a historic (still functioning) mill located in the park near the town of Cherokee, North Carolina.
Here is a panorama of what I had always envisioned as the “smoky” mountains. This was also taken from Newfound Gap, but later in the day when we crossed back over into Tennessee and the fog in the valley had broken up.
The low clouds hung around on the Tennessee side of the mountains for several days, so even though it was nice and sunny in the high elevations and in North Carolina, it remained foggy and gloomy on the east side of the range. It did make for some interesting shots of the deciduous forest as we were passing through the dense layer of clouds.
I also did a solo hike up to the top of Mt Leconte, one of the highest peaks in the Smokies. I will post about that journey a bit later!
Between Christmas and New Years, we headed out of town with my wife’s parents for a few days in the great outdoors. At first I wasn’t sure about the idea of taking my family on a trip to the mountains during winter because I wasn’t sure if anyone besides me would enjoy hiking and being outside in the cold. The weather ended up being unusually warm for much of our trip, but even if it hadn’t, I still think we would have had a great time outside!
Our main destination was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but we made a detour to checkout Fall Creek Falls State Park near Spencer, TN. It’s located in the Cumberland Plateau region, which is somewhat similar to the Ozarks.
Although it is possible to park right next to the main overlook, we accidentally parked on the other side of the gorge and had to hike a trail to get to the main falls. Which turned out to be great because it allowed us to also see another impressive waterfall and walk across this sweet suspension bridge.
The view from the bridge looks down over a roaring cascade (Cane Creek). We noticed several john boats mangled up at the base of these falls. The height, combined with the volume of water made for quite a sight!
The trail between Cane Creek Falls and Fall Creek falls passes through some pretty forest that is a mix of Oak, Pine and Hemlock, a species of evergreen that I rarely see around here. We also crossed a number of tributaries that contribute to the falls.
Finally we reached the crown jewel of the park, the 256′ tall waterfall. A beautiful day and a beautiful way to start off our visit to Tennessee! I’ll post some more photos from the Smoky Mountains later!
Fall is not only the best time to be out taking photographs, but it’s also the best time to be out period. The weather is sometimes cool, sometimes warm, but either way it’s usually pretty comfortable. The leaves (the ones that haven’t been eaten by worms) are turning colors, giving the landscape an explosion of color before everything turns brown and grey for the winter.
Our schedule has been hectic to say the least so my opportunities to get out and enjoy and photograph the vibrant landscape have been few and far between. Nevertheless here are a few photos I’ve taken over the last several weeks of the fall colors this year…
I’ve been meaning to post this photo for awhile. Several mornings in a row I was greeted with amazing sunrises. They were all different but equally inspiring to wake up to. Naturally I grabbed my phone and took a photo… this was my favorite.
As you might tell, everything is still pretty green in the shot because it was taken back in early September before the leaves had started changing and before the worms ate nearly every leaf in sight!
Over the past couple months I have been getting involved with an emerging trail project in Carthage called Walnut Bottoms. It’s a walking/running/mountain bike trail that winds it’s way through some beautiful bottomland forest along Spring River. It has been fun and interesting, particularly seeing how it works and how much effort they have put in to make a project like this a reality.
This trail, like many others has it’s own unique set of challenges in addition to the obvious one of simply acquiring land and building and maintaining a functioning trail. Most, if not all of the land is subject to periodic flooding, after which the trail may be wet or muddy for a period of time and covered with trees and other flood debris. It also means some areas are perpetually soft and muddy, so that is something to work around. A challenge to trails that I have never really understood is opposition from adjacent landowners – this trail has some of that as well.
In spite of the challenges, I believe this trail has some amazing potential. Right now, there is a roughly 2.5 mile loop that can be traversed on foot or mountain bike, with another mile or so that seems to be close to completion. Being a new trail, it’s a bit difficult to navigate in a few spots, but when I rode it I didn’t have too much trouble finding my way. Being bottomland it’s a generally flat trail, but there are many small ups and downs that make it interesting. I rode my hybrid bike and while I would not recommend that type of bike on the trail, it was still a lot of fun! I recently discovered how much fun mountain biking is, and with the lack of places to ride mountain bikes around here, I am excited about this trail just a few miles from home!
If you want to check out the trail and the progress, the parking area is located at the end of old North Main St in the Kendricktown neighborhood north of Carthage. Take Garrison from Carthage across Spring River and turn right. Residents at that intersection have collected mind blowing quantities of junk vehicles in and around the street, so at first glance it looks like a private drive – don’t let that scare you away, it’s actually Main Street and the trail parking area is at the end of that road on the right!
Saturday the weather was perfect to be outside so we packed up a lunch and took our girls for an outing at Prairie State Park. There are lots of state parks within easy driving distance from here, but this is one of the closest, and also one that is different than most others in Missouri.
Although I couldn’t get either of the girls to wear their blue t-shirts to the football game the night before, they insisted we all wear Carthage Tigers shirts on our hike. That morning I had put on an MSU shirt in honor of my bears first home that day, but the girls said that I needed to wear a Carthage shirt like them “because we are a family”. Can’t argue with that I guess, so I caved.
Although most of prairie state park is as you might guess, prairie, there is a small forested spot with a nice picnic area. Emma and I had a nice picnic here several years ago, so it was fun to revisit this spot.
After lunch the girls played near a small stream the runs beside the picnic area.
We hiked the Coyote Trail (did not see any coyotes), which forms a 3.25 mile loop. The girls had fun running along the trail and looking at abundant flowers. The tall grass prairie was over their heads so they couldn’t enjoy the expansive views that an adult might see.
The trail winds up and around a few hills and crosses a couple streams. While it might sound boring to hike out in a wide open prairie, I find it very peaceful and relaxing. The wide open views and the sight of the tall grass waving in the wind. Until Steph spotted the bison on the trail just ahead of us. Although I have never heard of any dangerous encounters with Bison at this park, I didn’t want to take any risks so we cut a shortcut across the field to avoid crossing paths.
We routed the hike so that we reached the visitor center a little over 2 miles in, proving a nice rest stop.
After the visitor center we had about a mile back to the truck. We passed through a wet low area that was an explosion of flowers, which attracted tons of butterflies, moths, and bees. I thought this one was particularly interesting.
I knew we were getting close to the finish when the trail winded its way back into this little wooded area along the stream. Really pretty spot!
The bridge crossed back into the picnic area where our adventure started! What a great family outing in such a beautiful setting.
Anyone that knows me knows that I love riding my bike. I am always in search of a good trail or stretch of road to cruise down. This past week I had a little spare time after an insurance conference in Branson and decided to check out the White River Valley Trail, a network of mountain bike loops. I have never been “mountain biking”, nor do I have a mountain bike, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
There are 3 access points to the trail system. After studying the topo map, I chose #2 because it was at the lowest point of elevation on the trail… that way if I got in over my head or broke my bike, at least it would be downhill back to the car.
The first quarter mile or so was flat and smooth similar to any other trail I’ve ridden except narrower and with more turns… it was pretty fun! Then I reached the base of the hill. That’s where the trail turned from a smooth dirt/gravel surface into a steep incline of dirt and ledges strewn with loose rocks. It was difficult to maintain any speed as I navigated the rocks and tree roots, so I kept falling over or peeling out in the loose rock “surface”. I started questioning my ability and my equipment, but my stubborn nature wouldn’t let me give up just yet.
The further I rode, the worse the trail became. Stream crossings were steep and littered with large rocks and there was no discernible trail to follow. I wondered how anyone could ride a bike through such a spot.
Then, after a couple miles I started getting the hang of it, finding some confidence, and realizing that there was a legitimate use for the lowest gear on my bike. I began to enjoy the process of selecting a route and maneuvering around and over obstacles and unusual spots in the trail. Before I knew it I had made it to the top of the massive hill and started cruising back down. It was at this point when I realize how awesome of an experience this really was compared to the typical cycling I was accustomed to.
This particular trail is mostly steep and rocky forest, but it also passes through some open glade areas and a small amount of flat river bottom. Much of the forest is cedar, so the sweet smell added to the experience. Another nice feature is an old cabin/homestead.
I rode all of the loops except for the red loop, which is supposedly the more advanced section of the trail. I decided to save that for another day since the other loops were pretty challenging to me as a beginner and I had already fallen off my bike numerous times. I was glad that my old hybrid Trek was able to get the job done, even though the terrible brakes and constant gear slipping made it a bit precarious at times!
Even with the rocky start (pun intended), I had a great time and decided this type of cycling was also very worthy of my time, even on an ill-equipped bike. It was kind of like hiking and biking at the same time!