“I’m singing in the rain…”

It’s getting colder here in our part of the world and in Asheville, the rains are simply sporadic and forever. I can tell that Asheville is ready to kick us out too because every time my hubby and I have a day off together, it rains and rains and rains with no signs of letting up for the day. What is there to do when the weather is wet?

You can either stay at home, watch netflix forever and ever and cuddle over coffee or tea or… you enjoy the outdoors! Why not?

Yes, the outdoors, rain or shine. That’s what we decided to do one gloomy, cloudy rainy day. For those who have been reading our (mis)adventures in Asheville, we have been doing mostly outdoorsy stuff, exploring and adventuring wherever our feet lands us. This time, I let hubby pick the trail we were going to hike on.

So we donned our hiking and rain gear and braved the weather. Today, we bring you Looking Glass Falls. It is about an hour’s drive from Asheville headed South and into Pisgah National Forest through the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. It is a beautiful drive as always with the trees in full fall color despite the wetness of the environment making the leaves look dull with the grey skies overhead.

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Can you imagine if this were a sunny day?

Looking Glass Falls is one of the popular waterfalls in Western North Carolina due to its easy accessibility from the roadside. You can see it driving along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. There is a small parking space along the side of the road and stairs to bring you down closer to this 60 foot waterfall. No hiking involved. DSCN0593.jpgDSCN0589.jpg

When the water flow is lower, you can wade over the stream and swim by the waterfalls but be careful because the rocks can be slippery. Heavy rains can bring about such a high volume of water over the falls that it would be too dangerous to even come close to the edge.

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No swimming today!

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After spending a few minutes here, taking photos and gingerly climbing over rocks, we decided to move on to another “secret” destination my hubby had planned. Take note, there were only about eight people here and most of them from Florida! I guess it is practical to sightsee when it is raining. You don’t have to push and shove to get a good picture.

A couple of miles down the road, there is another hiking trail that leads to another waterfall. Moore Cove Falls is not as popular as Looking Glass Falls but is pretty in its own unique way. It is an easy 1.5 miles roundtrip hike. There are no signs along the road but there is an information board and a stone bridge near the small parking lot.

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The stone bridge over Moore Creek

The trail head is just past the information board crossing a wooden walkway before hitting the dirt. It was covered with leaves in different shades of gold that day.

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In full rain gear

The rain poured harder this time so we were rushing a little bit. I still managed to sneak in a shot or two using my handy dandy Nikon coolpix water proof, shock proof, freeze proof camera! Perfect for this kinda weather.

Upon reaching the end of the trail, there was a viewing platform and if you are adventurous enough, you can step around it and actually come closer and get BEHIND the waterfalls!

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How cool is that?!?

The waterfall is 50 feet high and its stream is greatly affected by the weather. Heavy rain means pouring water while drought could slow its flow down to a mere trickle. Hence, my hubby picked this one on this particular rainy day.

Take note again. We had this place all to ourselves.

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Under and behind the waterfalls

My camera actually ran out of battery after this shot. A few more minutes of exploring the nooks and crannies of this somewhat cave-like place then we went back in a hurry. At the back of my mind, I had visions of the stream rising fast and flash floods following suit. No, we are not going to be in some news story about two Asian hikers lost in the woods or worse, washed away by the floods. Meh. I just have an overactive imagination.

We get back to the car wet and cold and safe.

Next on our agenda was to find the nearest Starbucks. Quick!

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Part Three

It is quite obvious that North Carolina is one of our favorite states, maybe even our number one, we just don’t know it yet. The fact that we have been here so many times AND we chose to have our first travel nursing assignment together in Asheville just speak volumes of our fondness for this place.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast like we are, then there are tons of activities here for you. If you are a foodie and a beer lover, other than Oregon on the West Coast, this charming Southern state on the East Coast perfectly suits the bill.

We have been temporarily living in Asheville for 19 weeks now. We have two more weeks to go till our contract ends then we drive back home to sunshiny Florida for the winter.

In the meantime, this is the third part of my Blue Ridge Parkway hiking series.

If you are into hiking and would like some ideas and tips as to which trails to take, then this series is for you. There is no hard core technical hiking in here though, just doable and enjoyable enough to give you a good work out and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

Just click here for Part One and then here for Part Two.

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The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

We try to hike as many trails as we can and not just along the Blue Ridge Parkway but because the Parkway is easily accessible and has lots of trails, then this is where majority of our hiking is done.

Skinny Dip Falls

The name itself piques interest in many. It is one of the many waterfalls around the Asheville area where swimming is allowed, but alas, no you can’t swim in your birthday suit unless you come really early or late. Skinny Dip Falls is a popular swimming hole in the area specially during summer. Sorry, just keep your clothes on here.

The trailhead is located right across the parking lot of Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Mile Post 417 on the Parkway. Note that there are no signs leading to the falls.

It takes you only half a mile to get to Skinny Dip Falls. It is a fairly easy hike. Just follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for the most part until you get to a wooden bench and a staircase that will take you down to the falls. There is also a bridge that you can cross to get to the other side and explore more of its nooks and crannies.

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Skinny Dip Falls

Graveyard Fields

Less than two miles away from Skinny Dip Falls is Graveyard Fields Trail on Mile Post 418.8. The trailhead starts on the right side of the parking lot just beside the restrooms and drinking station. You go down a flight of stairs and then follow a “paved” trail where there are rhododendrons on both sides. Depends on the season you hike but rhododendrons bloom around May and June covering this trail with a canopy of pretty pink flowers.

The trail is a 4 mile loop. Graveyard Fields (like Skinny Dip Falls) is another misleading name. In the past, tree stumps and other trees in the area looked like grave stones in a graveyard, hence the name, but after a fire of so many years ago burned down the trees, there has been a noticeable absence of trees around this part, unlike the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Being situated on one of the highest elevations on the Parkway, these bushes and plants are among those who display their colors first. We hiked this trail end of September and as you can see, the leaves are already showing some color.

But before you get to the open fields as shown above, you get to the Lower Falls first and then cross a bridge to get to the real “Graveyard Fields” where you can then continue hiking to the Upper Falls.

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Lower Falls

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You can see wild blueberries growing abundantly too. No wonder there was a warning sign at the parking lot that there was no camping allowed in the area due to increased bear activity. In case you didn’t know, bears love berries!

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These pretty yellow wildflowers were all over the trail. That and so much more including trees that were showing signs of autumn.

Soon enough, it was getting dark and we didn’t really know how far we were to the Upper Falls. It seemed like we were hiking on and on after the last trail sign we saw and hikers we met along the way on their way back reported there wasn’t much water to see and that it wasn’t that spectacular. If it were not for reports of bear activity and the fact that dusk was fast approaching, we would have pushed on.

Again, my instincts were telling me to go back so we did. Who knows how close we were to the falls but no matter how much we strained our ears to listen to water running, we just couldn’t hear anything. And yet, this wasn’t the first time I listened to this strange gut feel of mine while hiking.

It doesn’t help also that I was stopping every ten steps to take photos. I know. My hubby gets annoyed at this fact though he tries his very best to hide it and go along with me because a normal two hour hike would end up to be four!

So we hiked/trotted as fast as we can. No more stopping to take pictures. The trees were throwing creepy looking shadows on the trail now and I was trying my very best to not think about bears. I talked in my loudest voice, mostly nonsense, making some noise to ward off potential bears lurking and other animals nearby.

I do have my hiking pole and my hubby has his knife and whistle. But because, bears.

Once we got to the parking lot, phew, what a big sigh of relief! That was scary, a little…okay, a lot, for me, that is. But the sun was out shining brightly ready to set behind the mountains. We were greeted with this view. And just like that, all our fears went away.IMG_4215

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“Beautiful sunset you have there! Endless mountains in sight.

Blue Ridge Mountains, we bid you good night.”

Any interesting hiking stories you want to share? Tips for the “bear-y” scared hiker?

Fall is Corn “a-Mazing” Time!

The first time I have been on a corn maze was a couple of years ago in Connecticut. We were visiting my best friend and her family and to them, a yearly trip to the corn maze and join in all the fall festivities is like a family tradition. I have never heard of such a thing before in my life so naturally, I was all game. It was a full day of playing with the kids, apple picking, eating kettle corn popcorn and whatnot. I enjoyed it so much! To this Florida girl, I felt like we were missing out on all the fun fall stuff the rest of the country was doing.

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What is fall without pumpkins and pumpkin patches.. bales of hay and hay rides.. cinnamon flavored coffee and cinnamon cakes.. apples and apple picking.. corns and corn mazes.  All these are activities that one can enjoy only during this time of the year. Add to that the crisp cool weather, dress up in layers and bring out those boots and scarves and you are ready to go!

This year, we went to the Eliada Corn Maze, Western North Carolina’s largest corn maze. This is an annual event organized by Eliada Homes, a non-profit orphanage located in Asheville, North Carolina. Proceeds from the corn maze benefit these kids and other high risk children. What a way to have fun and help out at the same time!

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I see pumpkin men!
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Getting ready to do some “corn-y” stuff
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There were actually four mazes side by side. This one was the biggest (and supposedly hardest) one. The next one was shorter and easier. The third one was like a storybook for the kids and the last one was for the tractor rides.
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Glad I didn’t get to see “the Children of the Corn” in here else, I would have freaked out!
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Checking in
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Which way please? Now, we are lost!
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Fun tractor ride

So if you are in the area next year, maybe for some fall leaf color viewing, check this place out too. It’s fun for everyone in the family!

Fifty Shades of Autumn

Having lived in Florida for almost ten years, I have never experienced a true “autumn”. Of course, being born and raised in a tropical country doesn’t help either. I only see it in the movies or in photos, read about it in magazines or hear about it from friends. I remember looking at all the vibrant colors in awe and then at the same time appalled at all the mess the leaves have created! Thats the “OCD” in me rearing its ugly head.

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In the past, we’ve visited New York, Virginia and Washington DC in the fall but they were very quick short trips to see friends and family so it wasn’t just to go see the leaves. I did get a nice prelude to all the color changes.

Fast forward today, my hubby and I are currently located in Asheville, North Carolina. We’ve been here for more than three months now having extended our original thirteen week contract for a couple more weeks. Being travel nurses has given us the opportunity to work and see different places in this country.

As I am writing this post, I am facing the window overlooking the parking lot. It is not just your ordinary boring concrete parking lot by all means as I have the mountains from a distance and lots of trees scattered all over the property.

When we first arrived here mid October, my view looked like this.12096581_10153678865753166_1666764872867415886_n

Two weeks later, here it is.

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I cannot help but feel so giddy every time I see the trees with all the varying shades of autumn…Reds, Rusts, Yellows, Golds, Oranges, Browns. They always manage to bring a smile on my face. I think of how blessed we are to be able to enjoy all these beauty, to see the changing of the leaves, to feel the crisp cool mountain air, to simply just be.

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The beauty of autumn reminds us that life is a cycle. No matter how many leaves fall to the ground to prepare the trees for winter, it will soon be over and then life begins anew. No matter how many obstacles and challenges we face, it is not the end of the world, there will be another chance for a new beginning, to make it right.

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Like autumn, we can be vibrant and colorful and inspire.

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I try to. I try to live in the moment too! IMG_4308

“Every leaf speaks 

bliss to me,

fluttering from 

the autumn tree”

Emily Bronte

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Part Two

In every walk with nature,
one receives far more than he seeks 
~ John Muir

I have a long list of favorite hiking trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They range from easy to moderately strenuous. To put them all down in a single post would be too lengthy (you all know how much I love to take photos!) so I decided to break them up into sections. I guess I would consider this post or series of posts a work in progress because we will forever be hiking trails when we are around this area.

If you missed the first part, please click here.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Along with that you can find more than 100 trails for all skill levels from Virginia to North Carolina. How incredible it would be to do at least half of them!

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Over the years, so far, these are what we have accomplished.

Linville Falls

Our very first major road trip was in 2009. We took nine days off work and our goal was to see the Niagara Falls. We stopped at different states along the way and made sure to visit and explore a couple of cool and interesting tourist spots.

Cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we chanced upon the Linville Falls sign along Mile Marker 316. I wanted to do something spontaneous and unplanned so we stopped to take a quick look. We had no idea at that time that the Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains because of its accessibility along the Parkway. We just wanted to see some waterfalls.

Because this was a detour, we took the shortest and easiest trail which ended up in the first overlook with the small double falls. From the double falls, the water came in a swirling gush through a narrow channel of rocks down to a foaming pool. We didn’t know there was another big one after that! Take note, this was before smart phones so researching stuff on the internet was pretty much basically done at home on your desktop.

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So, fast forward 2013, my parents came to visit us for three months. On one of our trips we took them to Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway was on our list. Naturally, we had to stop at Linville Falls again.

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My mom doing the hiking thing with us
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The parents at the first overlook

We followed the same route. This time we were more prepared gear wise but we couldn’t go very far because of my parents. They weren’t really physically prepared for this activity and we didn’t want to tire them out or much worse, get them sick! But if you want to hike some more, there are more beautiful trails where you can see the river, the falls from different angles and the Linville Gorge.

I couldn’t help but try to compare photos taken from the very first hike. Spot the (obvious) differences if you will.

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Grandfather Mountain

Seventy miles North of Asheville, Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Like Mt. Mitchell, you can also drive up almost to the top. It is close enough from Linville Falls so if you simply plan to sightsee and not to do some serious hiking, then you can probably do both attractions in one day.

When we came to Grandfather Mountain, hiking was not on our itinerary since we brought our parents along. We just decided to check this place out and after crossing the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, we found out that they have a short “challenging” rocky trail to the very top of that peak.

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Mile High Swinging Bridge

Challenging because my mom can only see with one eye making her vision not as good. Eventually, all three of us ended up coercing her to go with us despite her unheard pleas of staying behind and waiting. My hubby promised my mom he wouldn’t let her hand go and guide her every step of the way.

So this was how it basically started and ended.

My dad and my hubby, both of them guiding and guarding her step by step till she reached the very top of the rocks.

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By the looks of this photo, my mom was mighty proud of herself for getting up here, that is, after giving my hubby a very tight death grip which almost hurt his shoulder. Regardless, it was an accomplishment since she was never an adventurous person and led a very sheltered life growing up. So all these outdoor stuff is unfamiliar territory for her. We were all glad she came even if it was against her will initially.

Okay, so there was no true hiking done here to say the least but there are a couple of very challenging (for real this time) and strenuous trails going up to the mountain. Maybe, one day we happen to pass this way again.

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Update:

**Is it legit to say that we adore Linville Falls so much that a couple of days ago we hiked it again? But this time it was totally different. We were there for the leaves. Plus, we got to go all the way up the overlooks!

Stay tuned!

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I didn’t have a tripod with me and we were too shy to ask strangers for a photo of us with our backs turned away, so the old photos of us walking together were not recreated!
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Just had a hoot sitting on almost the exact same spot again, for the third time! It was a challenge this time though with the hordes of people around.

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My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

That’s a lot of mountains in between.

There are numerous references and information you can read about the Blue Ridge Parkway online not to mention hundreds of free tourist brochures on display in rest stops, visitor centers, restaurants, gas stations and hotels along the way. They even have a Blue Ridge Parkway app! So if you are in the area, there is never any reason you stay uninformed about this pretty popular drive. Take a quick detour and go on a few miles along its winding roads. Whats more, there is also never any shortage of fun stuff to do.

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There is something for everyone along this long stretch of concrete and its nearby areas. From the adventure seekers to the quiet creative ones. You can joyride with your car/truck/motorcycle/RV (traffic can be slow at 45 miles/hr specially during peak season in Fall), take thousands of pictures, camp at private or BRP designated campgrounds, take a hike, bike, view/swim/play in waterfalls/rivers/streams, visit museums/vineyards/wineries/farms, enjoy whitewater rafting/kayaking/canoeing/stand up paddle boarding/tubing/horseback riding/zip lining/canyoneering, go on a hot air balloon, attend festivals/flea markets/farmers’ markets, you get the idea… The.List.Is.Endless.

My husband and I both love nature so every chance we get, we like to go out hiking. Over the years, we have been coming back to this part of the country to stay for a few days. You could say we can’t help but fall in love with this place every time we visit. It just keeps on getting better. When we landed this travel nurse opportunity this year, we grabbed it head on.

We’ve done a couple of hikes here and there along the parkway. So far, we haven’t been on one that we didn’t like. Each trail offers something different hence, every experience is different. However, some of them were way off the parkway so I am not including them on my list here.

Craggy Gardens 

From Asheville, head up North along the Blue Ridge Parkway till you reach Mile Post 364. (Tip: Mile Post 0 starts in Virginia, so the further North you go, the lower the Mile Post will be) There is a visitor center once you get there, bathrooms and drinking water. Picnic areas can also be found close to the visitor center.

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The weather can quickly change up in the mountains, as you can see in the photo above. Fog and clouds can creep up as quickly or as slowly and the next thing you know, it is a few degrees cooler than the city. Or worse, it could rain. So, bring a jacket!!!

I didn’t. It was a nice warm sunny day in June in Asheville. Who needs a jacket? You will be hiking and sweating anyway. Boy was I wrong. Good thing my hubby left his sweat shirt hoodie in the car. He didn’t need it. He doesn’t get cold right away, unlike me.

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My oversized instant cold weather gear. Thanks to hubby. And no, I wasn’t doing any business behind that rock.

Now that we got the essentials out of the way, there are two trails here. Craggy Gardens Trail, which we took, the shorter one since we were pressed for time and Craggy Pinnacle Trail which boasts of panoramic views at the top.

Check out this old post about this hike.

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This was the end of the trail, a “bald patch” on top of the mountain.

Mt. Mitchell

The highest peak east of the Mississippi River with an elevation of 6,684 ft. This one is a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway laying Northeast of Asheville and is part of the Mt. Mitchell State Park.

There are several trails leading to the top of the mountain ranging from easy to strenuous. Heck, you can skip walking and just drive up to the peak, well, not to the very peak since you have to park your car and then walk a short distance uphill on a paved road to get to the summit.

We took the Old Mitchell Trail which was marked as moderate to strenuous. It was a 4 mile roundtrip hike starting at the Park Office.

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Lots of beautiful flowers along the trail. The bees were busy pollenating and there were even raspberries that my husband was snacking on as we walked. Eventually, the trail got steeper and steeper, the woods denser, lots of roots and rocks to watch out for and to make matters more exciting, we “almost” got lost when we missed the switchback.

I had a bad feeling about the path that we took because it was just so many trees in front of us, they were literally in your face. We were climbing straight up the mountain with no clear marked trail until we got to a fallen tree that looked as if it was there forever with moss and lichen covering it when I insisted we go back track to the last trail sign we saw because my gut tells me that this is just wrong.

Further, to make matters worse, upon turning back because it was so steep, my husband slipped and almost hurt himself because he was hurrying to get to that trail sign.

It couldn’t be that hard. All we need to do was follow the yellow dots.

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Suffice it to say, I was more or less huffing and puffing most of the way up. Thank God for hiking poles! Not to mention I was scared shit from that earlier wrong turn we took. I didn’t want to run into any bears (hikers reportedly heard someone seeing a bear in the area) nor did I want us to fall off an unseen cliff or something horrible like that. 

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Two hours later, we get to the top along with several others who either hiked a different trail or drove up.

After all our efforts, we were rewarded with this.

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After a few minutes of breathing in the summit air while enjoying the breathtaking 360 degree scenery and at the same time taking some photos, it was time to go back down again.

Can’t we just hitch a ride back to the parking lot, I say out loud? Fat chance, hubby gave me that look. But I knew going down is much easier than going up so off we went to finish our hike for the day.

Not that we were warned to begin with.

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For more hiking stories, stay tuned for Part 2.

A Walk in the Woods (via the Blue Ridge Parkway)

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~ John Muir

There are times when you just need to get out of the city and be with Nature. City life itself may have its perks and to many, the epitome of success and the metropolitan life but I admit I am more of the outdoorsy type than a city girl. I can rough it out for a couple of weeks. However, I can’t live without my modern day comforts too. What’s a girl to do without her Starbucks and wifi!

Striking a balance between the two is important to me and my sanity. I have never considered myself an “extremist” as I am pretty much a laid back person, sensitive and sometimes thinking that I belong to a different era and most of the time feeling like a square peg in a round hole. 

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The love for travel (and photography) is one of the main reasons I started this blog. Whether we travel locally or abroad does not even matter. What matters is how you see things from different perspectives and how you interact with the people around you.

This time around, we traveled, more like road tripped to one of our favorite local destinations ever ~ Asheville! It is a city in North Carolina that is bursting with local flavor, art and the outdoors. We love it so much that at one point we even considered relocating. Well, who knows? Read more about past posts here.

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Selfie on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Because we have been to Asheville so many times, we skipped the usual jaunts and decided to try to be local. We will be working and living here temporarily in the next couple of weeks anyway so we might as well practice. And also, having only two days does not really give us enough time to do much.

So, we decided to hike one of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ easier trails. Getting there is only half the fun. If you haven’t been on the Blue Ridge Parkway yet, you have to go, especially during Fall when everything is alive with color. It is such a beautiful leisurely drive that takes you down winding roads and tunnels and breath taking vistas of the mountains and trees. It is considered one of America’s scenic drives.

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The Park Rangers at the Visitor Center suggested we go to Craggy Gardens if we wanted just a short and easy hike with nice views. It took us a total of about two hours from driving to the trail head, hiking and then back to our lodging.

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We took two trails. The first one was too short and the second one was too long and technical so we didn’t go all the way. Our hike lasted only about 45 minutes or so (maybe 30 minutes if you are fast), but we took our time because I was stopping so much for photos! And this is why sometimes I don’t like going with a group because I hate to be rushed and at the same time I feel like I am slowing them down. Even the hubby has to sometimes look back and remind me of the time.

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But when I am outdoors, everything is the perfect photo op! From the ground up to the skies, big and small, I find beauty in the most mundane of things.

Enjoying my walk in the woods…

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Even with my hubby rushing me sometimes, he gladly obliges to be the subject of most of my images. He makes a good funny face too!

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Best of all, time spent outdoors is time well spent. It is in the greens and the blues, the fresh air and that earthy scent that wakes me up and refreshes my spirit.

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