Category Archives: Parks

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Many years ago I went with my parents to Zion National Park where we attempted to hike Angels Landing. My Mother and I made it to Scout Lookout but that was as far as we went. My Father tried to go to Angels Landing but turned out when he realized how tough it was going to be. Now that I’m in better shape, I decided that I wanted Mike and I to tackle Angels Landing this year. I had already climbed a rock wall this year, surely I could hike this trail!

One of the stops on the shuttle trail takes you to the trail head for the Narrows. From this stop, you can see the Great White Throne (left) and the end of Angels Landing (right). We weren’t able to actually see anyone, but I’m sure there were people there!

Mike and I started the hike around 7:40-8:00 AM. The shuttles will drop you off at the Grotto, where the trail starts, before the visitor center opens so if you want to hike this trail with minimal direct sunlight, I recommend starting early! I had just learned the day before that the hike to Scouts Lookout was 2 miles, not 1, and the hike to Angels Landing was .55 miles, not .25. So, the entire hike was twice as long as I had expected! The total mileage will be 5.4 miles.

As we were on the shuttle heading that way I started getting more and more nervous. I always get nervous before races and this was pretty much that same feeling. What if I couldn’t make it? What if I had to tell my friends and family that I had to turn around? All of these thoughts were going through my head but I managed to keep them turned down enough that I didn’t chicken out!

From the Grotto you cross over the street to the steel bridge.

The first part of the trail is by far the easiest! So, enjoy it while you can! You’re well in the canyon on start and the views from the bottom are almost as beautiful as from the top! It follows the river for a bit and we saw some wildlife.

The trail slowly starts angling upward heading to Walters Wiggles (a ton of switchbacks that aren’t nearly as fun as the name implies).

These Whiptails (not sure if that’s the right name or not but we saw a restaurant in town with a metal version of the lizard, by that name, so that’s what we called them!) were all over the place!

After going up a few of the switchbacks, I took a break to shoot a picture from where we started.

I stopped to take several -ahem- picture breaks…yeah, picture breaks!

And…the wiggles just kept on going!

We finally came upon a section of the trail that went between two mountains and was relatively flat, which enabled us (me, as Mike seemed unshakable) to catch our breath some. It was quite pretty and cool (since the sun wasn’t shining through yet).

 Just when you think  you’re almost to Scout Lookout, the smaller wiggles attack. Holy Steepness, Batman! I had to stop a lot more on these tiny switchbacks than I did the larger ones. You can’t see how many are left, so just when you’re thinking you’ve got to be close to the top you’re faced with yet another climb.

Then finally, you reach Scout Lookout which isn’t very big but it’s big enough for someone to wait comfortably while you finish the hike to Angels Landing, or eat a snack or lunch. The views are quite nice from here as well!

If you look to the right you can see the trail to Angels Landing, as well as the Great White Throne.

I sat down for a bit while Mike decided to go check things out. By check things out, I mean he climbed to the end to see if it was something he thought I could do! My legs/muscles weren’t tired at all (which was an improvement) but my breathing was horrible. Between my throat issues and the higher altitude (I’m a flatlander!) I was fighting for oxygen. That’s Mike in the white T-shirt and jeans.

While he was climbing, I was watching the chipmunks scurry around. They kept checking out my water bottle and hoping I’d give them food. Sorry little guys, but I’m not feeding the wildlife!

The rise of rock is a little misleading from this angle. It doesn’t look that bad.

I was able to use my 42x zoom to see Mike on the top ridge! I love my camera. At least I knew he’d made it that far!

This is the ridge he was on, right at the end of the trail.

Soon enough I saw Mike back close to the bottom waving at me to come on. On my way to the start, where the chains begin, I see this sign. Yep, in the last 8 years 6 people have fallen to their deaths. That’s almost one a year. Not very comforting!

As I sat at Scouts Lookout, I saw several people start the climb only to stop and go back down. As I got closer and started climbing, I understood why. Yes, there are chains there for your use, but the chains don’t go from beginning to end. They kinda stop and start in different places. In fact, there is one spot where there are no chains and it’s not very clear where you need to go. When in doubt, just keep going up.

After climbing what felt like hours (was more realistically just about 15 minutes) I could see the daunting task still left ahead. I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of falling. I’m a bit of a clutz, so I was concerned that I’d be one of the people who made a wrong step and tumble to my death. My game plan was to just keep my eyes on where I was stepping and not look over the edge too often. Since it’s only one way up and one way down, we had to move over several times to either let people pass going up or going down. It was at those moments I’d look around and snap some pictures.

There were several spots on this trail that had drop offs right next to the trail.

Take this spot for instance, only about 3-4 feet of a rock bridge separate you from…

…this.

The climb was slow and strenuous. I was asked a couple of times if I had asthma and even had someone offer me her inhaler, so I know I was huffing and puffing pretty good! Mike, on the other hand, is part billy goat and had no issues. We had come pretty far so far and I was feeling pretty confident I was going to make it, finally!

See?! I told you these guys were everywhere, even way the heck on the top of the mountains.

We finally made it to the end! You can sort of see where we started the trail (center) here.

The view was gorgeous. There was a 360 degree view of Zion Canyon! By the time we got to the top it had taken up 2 hours and 15 minutes. The sun was starting to glare down and was quite hot most of the way down too.

You can see the river winding through.

From the top, the Great White Throne doesn’t seem as high up! Proof that I actually did make it. That’s right…I was able to quiet the doubting voices and push through. Even Mike wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it to the top, but I proved him wrong too! He didn’t tell me that until we were done though, which I was thankful for.

There were a lot of people taking their time at the end, enjoying the views, taking pictures, re-hydrating, and refueling. Mike and I stayed for a bit. After all, how often are you going to get views like this?!

But, in the end, we knew we had a long way to go to get back to the start again!

Was it worth all of the huffing, puffing, and discomfort to hike Angels Landing? Yes, it was. It was worth all of that and more to prove to myself that I could do it. Will I hike it again? Maybe eventually, but not any time soon! The total time of the hike was 3:51:04 (of hiking, that doesn’t count the times we stopped at Scouts Lookout and at the end of Angels Landing). If you plan on giving it a go, wear sunscreen, start early, and take plenty of water and food to keep your energy up.

Linville Falls, Jonas Ridge, North Carolina

Tucked away in Jonas Ridge, North Carolina (not far from Linville) are the Linville Falls. Our original destination was Table Rock Mountain, but we missed our turn off and found this little beauty! There appears to be two parking lots. We parked in the top parking lot but it appears the lower parking area was more popular; However, I didn’t see any signs for the lower lot off of 183. It may only be accessible off of 221.

 

The trek from the upper parking area to the first viewing area was about .5 miles and had some steep areas. While the perspective is hard to see, I assure you it was quite a steep hike back up!

 

 

The leaves could be a little slick in some areas on the walk down, so use some caution on the trail.

 

 

The first viewing area is the closest the smaller falls and has a nice area to sit and relax or have a quick lunch, if time permits.

 

 

 

The water then flows around the sitting area and disappears through the rock formations to form the larger water fall visible from the other two viewing areas.

 

 

 

The forest was lush and more green than I had anticipated it would be in early November. During the summer it must be even more beautiful. The tree trunks and roots had to find ways to grow through all of the surrounding rocks which lead to some interesting formations!

 

 

 

The Chimney View was about another .5 mile from the first falls. There were a few steep areas here as well but also some stairs that helped with navigation. The look out spot isn’t as large as the first, but still a nice place to catch your breath. The falls from this view are created from the water that wound its way through the rock formations in the first viewing area as well as the smaller falls a little further back.

 

 

 

There is one more trail that leads to Erwin’s View (only about 800 meters from the Chimney View). This particular spot seemed to be the more popular “hang out” and was a bit crowded. While this wasn’t a planned stop, it was worth the time. Since the overall hike is probably close to 2.5 miles round trip, it can be a relatively quick excursion or can be a nice relaxing afternoon walk!

 

 

San Jacinto Monument, La Porte, Texas

Amongst the many chemical plants and silos in La Porte, Tx is the United States’ tallest monument at 570 ft (15 ft taller than the Washington Monument): The San Jacinto Monument.

This massive stone pillar was built in commemoration of those who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21st, 1836. The Texans’ defeat over Mexico allowed the United States to expand almost another third to include Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah and pieces of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. One of the more amazing feats of building this structure was the fact that no one lost their lives in the construction process!

Right before you get to the park entrance is a small cafe called Besaw’s. It’s not much to look at, but the food is quite good! Depending on when you go, it can be overly crowded with plant workers at lunch time, but if you’re at an off time I recommend grabbing a burger or BBQ sandwich while you’re there! FYI…Battleground Road has been renamed to Independence Pkwy.

Driving through the entrance, the first thing that should stand out are all of the beautiful Oak trees. There may have been a Pecan tree or two as well.

In the park is the San Jacinto Monument (to the right, which we’ll get to in a bit) and the Battleship Texas (to the left). There is a nice little park in the battleship area for relaxing and enjoying the weather (as long as it’s cool!).

The Battleship Texas was the first battleship in the US to have anti-aircraft guns, a commercial radar, as well as actually launching a plane from its deck.

You can go on deck as well, but I didn’t make it this go ’round. Across the street is the San Jac Monument. The carvings all around the outside show the story. The tale is also etched into the stone under the carvings.

Around the left side is a reflecting pool where you can still see the Battleship Texas. There are a couple of benches for visitors among the shade trees.

When you walk into the building, there is a museum to the left and elevators to the observation tower straight ahead. In the elevator area is a small art gallery dedicated to Texas’ fight for independence.

There are also tiny dioramas depicting the different scenes. All of them were well done!

The elevator ride to the observation deck is very quick and opens up into a rather small room with multiple windows for viewing.

There is a video that runs a constant loop describing what the area looked like back before the battle and the events that lead up to the end of the war between the US and Mexico. The windows overlook the front of the monument where plants line the street:

The reflection pool with a view of the skyline of Downtown Houston in good weather:

and last is the Ship Channel, one of the busiest ports in the US:

If you take your time and look around the battlefield, battleship and the monument you’ll see a small part of Texas’ history that many overlook because they can’t see past the chemical plants.

 

The Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon

 

We live in a bustling country full of noises and the belief that faster is better. Sometimes, we need to unwind and enjoy nature. Portland, Oregon is one of the prettiest cities I’ve visited so far. I have been to a lot of parks and gardens, but the Japanese Garden is extremely peaceful. I could spend an entire day walking around or reading and go home at peace.

The Japanese Garden is actually made up of five small gardens that each have their own elements but flow together nicely. Every garden is meticulously landscaped and maintained. And the green….it was green everywhere! Beautiful.

The Stone and Rock Garden (photo by Stephanie Moss, click on photo for link) was the first life sized karesansui (or Zen Garden) I’ve seen. It was stunning. Now, if I could figure out how to create one in my own backyard… 

There were slabs of stone around with writing, but I can’t remember what they said. I know some of them were lines of poetry.

The Flat Garden was similar to the Stone and Rock Garden but had more vegetation as opposed to rock. It was equally tranquil.

 

The Strolling Pond Garden was probably one of my favorite. Not all of the plants had bloomed yet, so I can only imagine what a vast array of colors this garden would have during the Spring.

There were small benches throughout the gardens where you could sit and meditate, or just take some weight off of your feet.

From the Strolling Pond Garden you follow a trail into the Tea Garden. They have a Tea House but we weren’t able to see any of the presentations. Next time we’re in the area, I plan on attending.

The most recent addition was the Natural Garden. It was built in a steeper area which meant more of the beautiful stone staircases. This particular garden was the most contemporary of the others as well.

 (Source – Photo by Michael Hersen)

Each garden is beautiful in its own right, but together the Japanese Garden is inspiring. Have you visited the gardens? If so, which was your favorite?

Chimney Rock

About 3 years ago my brother packed up his family and moved up to North Carolina. Being that my parents’ only grandkids were now 16 hours away, Mom and Dad have now moved up to Asheville with them. The first year Eddie had moved, we all (mom, dad, hubby, me) went up to Asheville for Christmas. Mike and I drove up there in the jeep. I was expecting snow, but there’s wasn’t hardly any. It was cold, but just no snow. On the way up there Mike and I went through several small towns that had Christmas decorations up. It was a beautiful site! Then we went through a town with a paper mill. Did you know that paper mills stink? Horribly? Well, they do. I was glad to be through that town quick!

 

The first day we were in Asheville, I wanted to try out one of their BBQ places. Mike and I found this cute little place:

 

 

When you first walk in there’s a counter that runs the length of that section. Above the counter is their menu. The menu is quite large and frankly I was a little overwhelmed. I just wanted a sausage link sandwich. I asked the lady at the counter if they had any of these sandwiches and all I got in response was a blank stare. “A what?” she asked me. Apparently, this woman had never heard of a sausage link Poboy before. It was quite a shame. I explained what I was looking for and she shook her head and said “nu uh, we don’t have those.” So, I ordered a platter of sliced beef. The BBQ itself was ok. But my craving was left unsatisfied.

 

After eating BBQ, we went to Chimney Rock. Eddie had bragged about how pretty it was and that it was where parts of the Last of the Mohicans was filmed. We were told that there was an elevator you could ride to the top of Chimney Rock or just take the steps. We parked the car and started walking toward the Rock.

 

 

 

I thought “Oh, that doesn’t look so bad let’s just take the stairs.” So, Mike and I bypassed the elevator and set out for the climb. Little did I know that what I saw was only a look out area. It was actually over 400 stairs and 2280 feet to Chimney Rock! Eeek! I was quite tired by the time we got to the top of the Rock.

 

 

This is the parking lot from the Chimney, as they call it or the Rock as I’ve been calling it! The very last vehicle is our jeep:

 

 

Once you’ve caught your breath, there are several other trails you can take to explore the rest of the park. Some of the trails were closed when we were there because of the weather (ice on the trail) and some because of maintenance. We did manage to walk the trail to Devil’s Head. Why is called Devil’s Head?

 

Blam!:

 

 

From there you could see some beautiful views:

 

 

One of the trails that was closed would have taken us over to the area where they filmed part of the Last of the Mohicans, but I got a decent picture of the waterfall anyway.

 

 

It looks too puny to be the waterfall they walked behind in the movie, you say? You’re right…that waterfall was created in an Asheville studio. There was a lower trail we could take to a creek area that fed to this waterfall, but we weren’t able to walk past a certain part.

 

 

 

After walking as far as we could on all of the trails left open, we headed down to the lobby and cafe for some grub. I bought a couple of items to give to my brother for letting us stay with him. Then we decided to ride the elevator down. Why not? I was curious to see where it would come out!

 

 

The elevator goes up, or in our case down, 26 stories in 30 seconds. It was quite a fun ride. The tunnel itself had different plaques with little tidbits of information. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and look forward to going back when the other trails are open. There’s a point called Exclamation Point (hahaha) that is another 200 someodd feet taller than Chimney Rock.