Inspired by Jeff of Planet Bell and Rechito of Expedition Hobo, I decided to come up with my very own photo journal year-ender. Actually, this is such a great idea that I will try to do this every year for my blog. It’s so simple. Just look back at my photos from the past year and decide which ones make the cut. I am going for 15 photos this year.
For me, 2015 has been a much better year than the last one. I can’t complain. There was not a lot of international travel as we only went to the Dominican Republic in May and to the Caribbean early in December. I haven’t even blogged about our Caribbean trip yet as that would have to happen in the next few days. But for the most part, my annual travel report involves local travel and the outdoors (and a lot of waterfalls!). Personally, I grew as a blogger and as a wife. Mid year, my hubby and I also sorta switched careers from being a regular nurse to a traveling nurse (sounds familiar?) which made our lives much more interesting and dare I say, certainly not stress-free.
Without much further ado, here are my faves. Hope you like them as much as I loved them!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
You can also hike to the very top of this rock through a difficult trail but that will be another adventure for another day.
This is a huge granite monolith in the Pisgah National Forest named as such because of the way it looks when sunlight reflects on its smooth surface when it freezes
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.
Mountains-to-sea trail sign
You won’t miss this odd shaped dragon head of a tree!
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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?
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.
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!
But first let me go down this way..
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!