Monday, June 30, 2014

Marooned in Shoshone!

From my travel diary - June 17:

I'm camping in Shoshone National Forest tonight. It's rainy and moody and altogether frigid; I find it to be gloriously beautiful. I'm warm and snug, nestled inside the van. Tonight I am wearing my socks, pajama bottoms, a tee shirt, a pullover, and my fleece hat to keep warm. I have my 15 degree sleeping bag and a fleece blanket over it. Snug, indeed. I am reminiscing about the day's events.

I was driving through Shoshone National Forest today, stopping every few minutes to stumble out of the van to gawk at impossibly large mountains and winding rivers, when I spotted a forest camp site. I immediately turned onto the forest road in search of the evening's free lodgings. It was a steep, winding, rutted road that led up through a series of switchbacks to a point I never actually reached -- because I got stuck in the mud (remember what I said about it being rainy? Yeah.). At first I wasn't worried; I had seen other people get out of muddy situations before. Apparently it's not as easy as it seems, because before long I was truly in a mire.


 Luckily, my phone was working; I don't know what I would've done if I did not have cellular service up there. I called my sister and asked her to look up the Shoshone Ranger Station's phone number, thanked her profusely, and went about getting myself out of that situation. Big thanks to the people at the Wapiti Ranger Station for all their help and concern! I love you ladies. In the end, I dialed my insurance company, who offered roadside assistance. 

While I was waiting for my insurance company to arrange for my tow truck, I wandered around the area near the van. It was icy cold, and there was snow on the ground. Fog descended, and it started to rain -- and then the rain turned into snow. Here I was, marooned in grizzly country, and it was snowing. I laughed. What else could I do? Having a sense of humor about ridiculous situations can be sanity-saving.

Once my insurance company arranged for my assistance, my knight in 4x4 armor arrived within minutes, and he helped me get my big muddy van out of the muck. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Bull's Conoco and everyone who helped me out today. Here's a few more photos of my muck-up:  

I decided to make camp at the base of that same forest road -- this time with all four (now filthy) wheels safely level on a gravel surface. Goodnight!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Split Rock Scramble

I love Wyoming. I love it. I can't wait to go back. 

A few weeks ago, I spent the morning channeling my 8-year-old self. There was a turn-out along the road with a sign that read, "Split Rock." I remembered the name from somewhere, so I decided to investigate. It was a great decision.

Split Rock is a fascinating geological feature on the vast, other-worldly landscape of Wyoming. And I spent the morning climbing all over it. I felt like a little kid, scrambling over rocks and peeking into all of the nooks and crannies. It wasn't long before I was openly smiling like an idiot -- the only person for miles.

I walked around the edge of a massive boulder, where I was greeted by a tiny hare. Aside from the mild surprise it must have experienced at my sudden presence, it was completely unphased by my proximity, and went about its bunny business while I lingered nearby.

I climbed, crawled, and hiked all the way to the back of the formation, where I was rewarded with a (literally) breath-taking view. I was worn out from all that playtime. I sat down for a breather and took a selfie:

I had a beautiful morning; Split Rock was just what I needed to invigorate my spirit. I can't wait to explore more of this incredible state.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hontoon Island adventure

I visited my little sister in Orlando in February this year, and we set of on a series of adventures together. That's her in the top photo; she is in school to become a yoga instructor.

The first place we visited was Hontoon Island State Park, a large island situated on the St. John's River, accessible only via personal watercraft or the park's complimentary ferry. We decided to wander the 3 miles of trails, take some photos, and in my sister's case, do yoga on every available surface. ;)

The trees were all covered in a thick blanket of moss, which happened to be blooming while we were there. All of those tiny blossoms were a delight to behold.

 The wildlife on the island is on the small side, but plentiful. Spiders, butterflies, and birds were scattered in prolific number throughout the park. We ran into a snoozing snake as well as several armadillos.

We had a lot of fun; perhaps it would be nice to return one day to do some camping.

Catch you later!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Moseying through Missouri

I started up my van and disembarked on June 11 on an almost month-long journey across the United States. The things I've seen and done in this short time have been life-changing. There are so many stories to share that this bog may never run out of content. ;)

 One day, while driving through Missouri, I decided to stop at one of the states many so-called "conservation areas." [So-called because these areas are generally designed for hunting and fishing; not something you'd generally associate with conservation.] The area was actually quite nice, however. Nothing terribly remarkable happened here; it was a lovely day spent watching bees and birds (guinea fowl, Canada geese, and a few other species I couldn't identify) and meeting this colorful little turtle:

I'll have more (interesting!) blog posts on this journey soon. I'm just getting the hang of grabbing wi-fi on the go. Be patient with me! In the meantime, I will continue to schedule posts about my old adventures.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tornado devastation in FDR State Park

The left side of the photos above and below used to be a campsite. Used to be. 

While visiting my older sister in Georgia in 2011, my family decided to take a hike on the Pine Mountain Trail -- a hiking trail that meanders through the lovely FDR State Park. As we drove to the trailhead, we were met with the first evidence of just how powerful Mother Nature is: there was a gaping, freeway-sized path carved in front of our car, from one side of the road to the other, like a giant bulldozer had gone on a rampage through the forest. It was only a hint of what we would see at the first overlook on the trail:

Felled trees littered the landscape as if they were nothing more than discarded matchsticks. There were parts of the trail that were blocked by massive, old trees, and we had to climb over and under them in order to hike onward. I kept thinking about what people's homes must look like, if a tornado could do this to the trees out here. I hoped everyone was okay.

Despite the devastation left behind by the storm, the cycle of life continued on, and out of the debris of the fallen grew a new generation of flowers and would-be ancient trees.

If you are the type of person who finds meaning in nature, like I do, you could see this as a sort of reminder. Bad things happen. Sometimes in life, trees fall. You can either lay down and join the debris, or you can use it as a nourishing foundation for life to begin anew.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Visiting the sea turtles at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

I took a quick trip to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center with my older sister a while back. It's a great little mangrove hamlet in the middle of a bustling city, right on the Intracoastal Waterway. The center -- in addition to providing a little slice of natural Florida to the area -- rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles, too. When we visited, they were in the middle of constructing an addition to their turtle rehab.

The trees in the above photo are Red Mangroves. They grow in areas containing brackish water and develop these unique prop roots which hold them above the water level. Mangroves provide habitats for all kinds of shoreline creatures, such as the large amount of crabs we saw scuttling around in the leaf duff.

My sister and I puttered around the boardwalk and climbed the Center's observation tower, which I believe is 40 feet high. It offered a nice view of the Intracoastal and surrounding area.

No sisters were harmed in the creation of the above photograph. ;)

After we had our fun on the boardwalk, we stopped to visit the sea turtles in the rehab area. Such sweet creatures; too many of them were there due to boating incidents. This fella had an injured eye, so he looked like he was winking at us. ;)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Riding out the storm on the Appalachian Trail

It was almost two years ago to the day that my mother and I set out on an overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail. Our hike would take us to the summit of Springer Mountain and back. I had previously completed this same hike on the approach trail in a single day; hopefully I can locate those photos to share them with you, because that experience was life-changing.

On this particular hike, we were able to take our time and enjoy the early summer scenery. The approach trail -- which is the first 8.5 'unofficial' miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail -- can be rough and altogether unforgiving; it's as much an exercise in mind as it is in body. Its natural beauty makes up for it, however.

Here is Amicalola Falls, sitting pretty at 729 feet tall; it's the tallest waterfall in Georgia. Amicalola is a Cherokee word meaning, "tumbling waters," and it is an apt name, indeed. The falls bounds over huge boulders and courses through a series of natural stone "steps" to the forest floor below.

We made it to the top of Springer Mountain between 2:00 and 3:00 PM. After a celebratory photo next to the southern terminus plaque, we took a short walk to the nearby hiker shelter to inspect the guest log and poke around. In the end, we decided to camp on the summit instead.

I picked out a good place to camp on the summit that appeared free of potential falling branches. My mother set up her tent and I put up my beloved hammock, and then we made and ate our dinner.

At around 5pm, some clouds wandered past us, dark and brooding. They eventually cleared away, leaving us with this absolutely gorgeous sunset:

We watched the as the colors went from that painterly peach-and-purple haze to a dusky indigo, hung our food bag, and then turned in to sleep for the night.

We were woken in the middle of the night by one hell of a storm! Lightning, thunder, the wrath of the gods was upon us on that summit. My hammock was literally bouncing in the wind, though I was safely ensconced under my trusty tarp and wrapped up like a burrito in my sleeping bag. It was a strangely lulling sensation, almost like being rocked to sleep.

My mother was not as comfortable, apparently; she was rather panicked, and kept calling my name. At one point, she hilariously and irrationally started blowing her whistle to "keep the bears away from our food." I will never get over that. I laugh to the point of tears whenever I think of it.

When we woke the next morning, we were greeted by cool weather and a flooded mountaintop. I had chosen our campsite well: our site was clear of debris, but all the surrounding tent spots were littered with large, fallen branches. We were lucky.

We broke camp and made our way back down the mountain. The forest was chilled and foggy; it was a peaceful descent. 

We stopped at one point and filled our Nalgene water bottles at one of the water sources on the trail. It was there that we encountered a fellow hiker who gave off a homeless-but-hiding-it vibe; there are actually quite a few homeless people who wander between the shelters on the Appalachian Trail.

I would love to explore more of the Appalachian Trail; my goal hikes are through the Roan Highlands, the 100-mile Wilderness, and the White Mountains. I'll be sure to update here when I complete them. :)

Have any of you hiked the Appalachian Trail?