Them Airboats

** Because we are traveling less frequently these days, I thought I could share some interesting stuff about Florida. What better way to promote my home base right? I don’t need to travel out of state or out of the country to be able to come up with inspiration for my blog because I already got tons of fun-tastic Florida faves lined up for you!

You can check out my first post about Florida here.

In the meantime, another fun-tastic activity to do while in Florida not Disney related is going on an airboat ride.

What exactly is an airboat?

Wikipedia defines it as: “An airboat, also known as a fanboat, is a flat-bottomed vessel propelled in a forward direction by an aircraft-type propeller and powered by either an aircraft or automotive engine. Airboats are a very popular means of transportation in the Florida Everglades, parts of the Indian River Lagoon, the Kissimmee and St. Johns Rivers, as well as Louisiana Bayous, where they are used for fishing, bowfishing, hunting, and ecotourism, and in other marshy and/or shallow areas where a standard inboard or outboard engine with a submerged propeller would be impractical.”airboatinflorida

Another interesting fact is that the airboat was first built not in Florida or the rest of the southern marshy states but in Nova Scotia, Canada by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Hello?

So whenever you see a flat bottom boat with a huge fan in its behind, you now know it is an airboat.

I first rode one in the Everglades National Park in South Florida. There are many airboat operators offering different tours which may or may not include other wildlife shows and exhibits. It is also important to know that majority of the park is considered a wilderness area and is off limits to private and commercial airboats so only a small section of the park and some adjacent non-park lands are used for the tours.

The next few times of my Florida airboating experience were done at Camp Holly, a mere stone’s throw away from where we live. Every time we have guests, we try to make sure to bring them here for an authentic old school style Florida activity.

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I personally think Camp Holly’s airboats were much more fun and exciting and faster than the one we had at the Everglades. Maybe there are speed restrictions since it is a National Park, I don’t know. All I remember on the Camp Holly rides is the thrill I get every time the boat twists and turns as it navigates its way on the water. It is much cheaper and closer to home too so that by itself is a no brainer.

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The boats go along the St. John’s River, the longest river in Florida and one of the few in the United States that flows up North. Various wildlife and plant life thrives here abundantly so naturally, sight seeing is the main attraction apart from the experience of riding the airboat itself.

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Of course, the alligator is the “king of the river” and all the other animals are but secondary to this fierce beast. I once saw a smaller alligator being eaten by another alligator. It happened so fast that at first I saw this swimming alligator and the next thing I heard was a loud snap and water splashing and then a piece of carcass was seen floating where the alligator was. Cannibalism live in action. Ugh.

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Can you find the gator?

Certain times of the year around spring is the best time to see these animals for mating season. We went in March and I swear we saw more than ten gators, I lost count! We even saw a gator’s nest.

Before going on a ride though, be aware that it can get really loud from the noise of the machine. Most operators provide you with ear muffs, ear plugs or noise reducing headsets. The driver stops at intervals though to be able to talk to you or answer any questions you might have. Also, being in Florida, the weather can change any time so be prepared for rain. If the weather gets really bad like a thunderstorm, they will turn back. Another important thing to remember also is that you will be riding along a marshland with weeds, grass and sometimes trees so bring a mosquito repellent. And sunscreen for that hot Florida sun. Duh.

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Lastly, bring a sense of fun and style to your airboat experience. Like my gorgeous friend from New York.

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Have you ever been on one? Wasn’t it an adrenaline pumping experience too?

The Oldest City in America

America’s oldest city is right under my nose, in my own backyard and I can’t even write about it. What is wrong with me?

Forgive me St. Augustine.

You have been and still are one of my favorite places to visit again and again. Your quaint and charming ways have found a special spot in our hearts. Not only because you are a three hour drive away from us, over the years, my husband and I both love to run away to you for a quick romantic getaway or to bring out of town guests to show them that Florida is more than just the theme parks.

Bright orange signs along the highway
Bright orange signs along the highway

St. Augustine was officially founded in 1565 when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in the early 1500s while on his search for the legendary Fountain of Youth (for real?). Today, St. Augustine boasts of its rich and exotic past mixed with beautiful beaches and lots of tourist attractions sprinkled with liberal amounts of Florida sunshine.

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St. Augustine is located in the Northeast corner of Florida and less than two hours away from Orlando. So if you get tired of Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter, a quick step back in time will rejuvenate that history geek in you!

Teeming with history

If Orlando is all about the fast paced colorful theme parks, St. Augustine is all about the history. Strolling through downtown St. Augustine’s cobblestone streets evokes that “old-worldly” sense coupled with cute romantic undertones. All modern structures were built to look like it was a hundred years old so it blends seamlessly with the true historic nature of the place. Horse drawn carriage rides along the harbor with the view of the bay and the Fort and the Bridge of Lions from a distance provide a picturesque backdrop to anybody visiting the area.

Even my photos are in sepia or black and white to match the nostalgic scenes.

Old and creepy

So cute and romantic can also be replaced with old and creepy, specially at night. If you like ghost stories, you are in the right place! There are so many ghost tours available from walking in cemeteries to riding a train or a hearse to check out the many “most haunted” sites. Some stories may have some truth to it, some are obviously made up. It is up to you to if you believe in the them or not. But there are definitely lots of spooky places, this being the oldest city. It makes for one very interesting evening.

I had goosebumps taking those cemetery shots at night. I didn’t look at the images on my camera’s viewfinder and didn’t really get to view them until I downloaded them into my computer a few days later. It’s just me, I scare easily.

During one of our many visits, we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary and stayed at a Bed and Breakfast. It was cute and charming at first, with all those grandma doilies and white lace and antique chairs until it turned dark in the evening then it stopped being cute with the creaky wooden floors and all!

The lighthouse

Built in the 1800s, the St. Augustine lighthouse is still very much in active use today. For a small fee, you can enter the museums, walk around the grounds and even climb up 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse. The views are spectacular!

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Matanzas Bay and the Atlantic Ocean from a distance
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The lens room
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A light house selfie

The fort

Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in North America built by the Spanish originally to thwart English attacks. This was back when Florida was still under Spanish rule.

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The fort walls
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The red rooftops of Flagler college

Of coquinas and cannons

Coquina (Spanish for small shells) is the material from which the Castillo de San Marcos is mostly built. It is similar to limestone and is made from little shells that have bonded together over time. Many have thought that this was a poor choice for building material for a fortress as it was light and porous but it was the only one available to use nearby however, when cannonballs were fired and flying, instead of shattering the walls, it got stuck or absorbed into the rock. A lucky find indeed. Makes for great legendary tales. The coquina saved the day!

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The fort’s inside walls
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One of the walls inside the city (downtown St. Augustine)
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The old city gates

These are just some of the main finds in this historic city. St. Augustine is a treasure full of activities and attractions, one that suits the young and old alike.

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Because we are traveling less frequently these days, I thought I could write some stuff about Florida. What better way to promote my home base right? I don’t need to travel out of state or out of the country to be able to come up with something for my blog because I already got tons of “fun-tastic” Florida faves lined up for you!

When WordPress Fails…

After our last trip in December, we are now back in Florida. For good? I don’t know. We don’t have any travel plans lurking at the moment, which brings me to panic because I don’t have anything to write about! “That Traveling Nurse” is ALL about the traveling so what is the point of going on if I am just going to be stuck here at home?!? I should change my blog name to something more appropriate and change my style and theme… yes, I am in another quandary. That much is obvious.

But wait, before that quandary above became a quandary today, I decided last week to write a post about Alaska, because, you know this blog is about traveling. Sort of like a little side tale to add to the collection of stories I have published about our Alaska trip already. And because really I have nothing else new and exciting.

The post was about bears. I had a grand time reminiscing our great Alaskan road trip like I always do, looking back at our photos and selecting which ones had the bear images that I could use. I wrote the post and sprinkled it with my favorite bear shots in between.

Then it was time to publish. I automatically looked at the “save” button out of habit even though I knew that WordPress has recently added the auto save function so while you are writing your post, it saves at intervals, which is really a nice feature. However, this time around, the “save” button was missing. A little warning shot fired inside my brain. Uh-oh. Was my work saved? There was no way out of this draft unless I hit publish or refresh. I couldn’t dare hit publish because the anal person in me wants to review and edit first what I wrote. So I clicked refresh and of course, it asked if I wanted to stay or leave the page. I wanted to leave the page, praying that the auto save function kicked in.

No, it did not save anything but the first three lines!!!

I was crushed, appalled, mad… and beyond frustrated! I am sure those of you who have experienced the same thing have felt this way too, right? That I am not just over reacting? When you have finished doing something that you are pleased and proud of, when you have worked hard to do it with your blood, sweat and tears (I am not just talking about blog posts here now) and then, only to have that something lost, stolen, destroyed or worse, not appreciated? Arghhh!!!

My bears were lost in cyberspace. I have their images saved on my media file though. But their stories, gone.

Plus, I refuse to write it all over again.

I seeked help from the WordPress gurus and it was quite awesome their chat feature that I found. I liked it better than waiting for an email response the next day because you are chatting with a live person in real time. So even if the tech person in charge that night didn’t really find my missing post, I felt a little bit better that I was able to vent and tell them my frustrations about the glitches that just happened. Hopefully, they can fix it in due time.

In the meantime, here are my bears…

**No bears or fishermen were harmed in these shots**

“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!

Of Antiques and Underground Waterfalls

Ever since we extended our assignment, I’ve stopped doing my weekly Travel Nurse updates (if you were kind enough to notice). We’ve kinda “assimilated” into our new temporary home by this time so it is back to usual blogging business. I figured I’ll just do thirteen weeks of Travel Nurse updates for every new assignment that we have, although some contracts can be as short as eight weeks or as long as four months! But thirteen weeks is our magic number, after that I get antsy and ready to move back home or to another place. The beauty of travel nursing.

Anyway, let me tell you about our overnight trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

Let me tell you first that I am not a country music fan. I know of Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and maybe a few others. And wait, there’s Taylor Swift! But didn’t she switch over to pop music now? Whatever. At least I know that Nashville is country music headquarters and that the Grand Ole Opry is located there. That is as far as my knowledge about Nashville goes. And, I certainly mean no disrespect for country music here but I just happen to have other musical preferences.

But here was where I was wrong. I thought Nashville was only country music. Nope. This was the place where singers and songwriters started, converged and eventually discovered. Most bars have free live music even during weekdays. Welcome to Music City USA!

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Notice the guitar pick?

So as with any upcoming trip, I did my research about the place in general, things to see and places to eat, basically a “what to do in Nashville in a day” kinda list. It also helped that we booked a room with AirBnB because the hosts are always generally very helpful with recommendations around the area since they are locals themselves. Before we got to Nashville, our host already texted me a short list of where to go for breakfast and dinner.

Yahoo maps estimated our total travel time to be close to six hours so naturally, with all the toilet and gas stops on the way, we expected to get there in six hours or more. I drove for the first two and a half hours while my hubby took a quick nap as he worked 12 hours the night before.

Let me tell you that we had no idea Nashville is in the Central Time Zone. When we found out that our GPS estimated our travel time to be four hours only, we got all excited and thought Yahoo maps just had a different and longer route. We later found out about the time difference, over a cup of coffee, when I looked at my phone and it showed two different time zones! I had a weather app with the time as part of my display screen and a smaller one on the upper right where the wifi and battery icons are. My hubby’s phone and Fitbit watch showed an hour in advance as my weather app time. So in our confusion as to what the real time was (we easily could have asked someone nearby but there wasn’t), we turned off my phone to reset it and changed the time settings to automatic time zone. No wonder our GPS and Yahoo maps didn’t match. Mystery solved.

Let me tell you that my husband is a HUGE American Pickers fan. And when I told him that I found out that they have a second Antique Archaeology shop in Nashville, he was just begging to go. Since we got there in good time, our next stop after coffee (after dropping our bags of course) was to head to the antique shop. It was conveniently located close to downtown  in an old car factory.

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Let me tell you that I am no antique expert but I just love the look and feel of old stuff. I have two antique lamps at home that I randomly bought at antique shops and I just love them! But, aren’t they just so so pricey?

Here are some items and pieces that Mike and Frank have picked and collected over the years. Some were for sale, some were a part of their collection. Most of the bigger items were over a thousand dollars! We ended up buying cool “Antique Archaeology” t-shirts.

Let me tell you the real reason we were in Nashville was to visit an old friend from Florida. She was also a travel nurse who had an assignment there. We met for dinner and drinks and bar-hopped our way until it was time enough to go home (read: drunk enough). Since I was the designated driver, I stayed sober which was really smart of us because on our last stop before driving out of the parking lot, we got stopped by cops doing a “welfare check”. Now, I have never been stopped by the police before ever and that just about spooked me out! When I saw those flashing blue lights behind me as I was backing out, I thought we were in biiig trouble. Thank God we weren’t! Didn’t even check my driver’s license.

Let me tell you that the next day we spontaneously decided to cut our trip short. After breakfast, we drove around downtown looking for things to do, sure, I had my handy dandy list with me, but we just weren’t quite sure if we really wanted to do them. Pay for parking, pay for entrance and we only have a couple of hours left before meeting up with our friend for lunch? We had a lackluster feeling about the whole touristy thing that day and tall city buildings didn’t interest us and so we called our friend and told her we would be heading back to Asheville earlier instead and that it was great seeing her last night.

Let me tell you that along the way we decided to check out Ruby Falls. I’ve been wanting to go to Ruby Falls for years and since we were “sort of” in the area, we might as well. “Sort of” because Chattanooga, where the falls was located was about two hours away south of Nashville and is the opposite direction of where home was. Nevertheless, we proceeded with this detour.

Ruby Falls is a 145 foot high underground waterfall located 1,120 feet deep inside Lookout Mountain. It was discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert and his team of excavators. He named the falls after his wife.

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The guided tour took about two hours. Taking an elevator down to the bowels of the earth, we navigated through stalactites and stalagmites, wondered at underground streams and various cave formations. It was truly otherworldly!

But it can get claustrophobic when you are underground for so long and you then yearn for fresh air and open skies. We were ready to go back up.

Let me tell you that this cave tour was pretty educational. I admit it was quite touristy but having a good well-informed tour guide makes all the difference. It also helped that he used to be an engineer and an avid spelunker. But then again, I never knew there was a difference between a cave and a cavern.

Would you care to guess the difference?

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!