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An Engagement Out West, Part 3: Pagosa Springs & The Cumbres and Toltec

Trip Dates: July 15-16, 2015

This is the third in a series of weekly installments about our July 2015 vacation out west. Wendy is composing these posts while I handle the photos and maps. Enjoy!

-Granger

July 15-16, 2015; click map for slideshow

Wendy's Post

Wendy’s Post

After the tough hike at Ghost Ranch, it was nice to arrive in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The town is known for its hot springs, but to me, it will always remind me of fresh air, hot air balloons, train rides, and great coffee. Pagosa Springs is a perfect place to relax.

We stayed at the same hotel we stayed at on our first big trip together in the summer of 2013. Back then, after staying in a cramped room at a Best Western in Durango, the spacious double queen room at the Pagosa Springs Inn and Suites was such a welcome sight. Granger always stays there when he visits town, and Chester, the owner, remembered him.

That first morning I woke to the smell of Higher Grounds coffee and Granger’s smiling face. He had walked over to the nearby coffee shop and picked up some coffee, scones, and the lemon bars that he loves so much. Just like two years ago, he set up the ironing board as our makeshift breakfast table.

After breakfast, I took a catnap, since my legs were still sore from the hike at Ghost Ranch. In the meantime, Granger worked on more school business relating to the grant and updating the school website. For lunch we ate at another favorite, DSP Pizzeria.

Later, we got around town to check out some of the local places, what I like to call “hippie shops.” We went to one called The Choke Cherry Tree, where we bought some cinnamon honey (from the Pacific Northwest, no less), orange blossom candy, and some truffles. We visited various “hipster” bakeries and then went to Old Town Market, which is one of those grocery stores that specializes in what I call “hippie food” – flaxseed, tofu, hemp, and organic everything. However, they had regular bread, which is what we were after.

For the rest of the day we mostly relaxed. After all of the tamales and rich food, we were happy to walk over to Subway for a light dinner.

The next day, I walked over to Higher Grounds to pick up breakfast. As happened in 2013, as we departed our favorite hotel, a few colorful hot air balloons filled the clear, ultra-blue sky.

Cumbres & Toltec Depot in Chama

Cumbres & Toltec SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

All aboard!

We headed south to ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado. Just like on our previous summer trips, Granger had done some considerate planning, interspersing rest break days between big hike days. I think he is aware that mere mortals can’t keep up with his pace.

Our ride on the Durango & Silverton train back in 2013 is a treasured memory: The ride was misty and cold, prompting Granger to trade me his warmer jacket for my light one. As we sat huddled together, I felt so secure and loved. And the rocking of the train almost put me to sleep. There were also some funny moments we still laugh about. On that trip, Granger had gotten a cinder in his eye and couldn’t wash it out with the conductor’s eyewash nor by washing out his eyes in the bathroom sink. I plucked one of his mustache hairs so he could cry the cinder out. I remember him saying, “OW!!! What’d ya do that for??!”

In the Parlor Car

For this 2015 train ride, Granger got us pricey seats in the Parlor Car, with windows that rolled up. We felt like royalty as we were served plates of fresh fruit, muffins, and rum cake, washing them down with soda pop, coffee, and bottled water. The calories piled up, but what the heck? It’s vacation!

Our tour director for the first half of the trip was a nice Hawaiian gal who pointed out interesting details. Granger and I found it funny that she, like another tour director on a tram ride last summer, pronounced “mountain” without enunciating the “nt.” So it came out as “mou-INN.” Researching this peculiarity online, I found out it is just part of the regional dialect. Similarly, some Oklahomans say, “warsh,” when they mean “wash.” In Texas, where I was raised, some people say, “pee-anna,” when they mean “piano.”

Speaking of dialects, one of the great things about taking trips out west is meeting people from different parts of the country. On the train ride, we found out that of the ten people on our side of the car, nine were in fields related to public schools. Sitting adjacent to us were two sweet ladies from Virginia: Cindy, a retired speech pathologist, and Annette, a retired elementary teacher, music teacher, and librarian. From Edmond, Oklahoma, there was a very vocal fellow who was a school bus driver who had previously taught special education. From New Mexico, there was a cafeteria manager. From other parts unknown there was a school secretary, a school bus driver, and a special education aide who had previously been a special education teacher. He didn’t mind the drop in pay, as it meant less paperwork. Then from Bartlesville, Oklahoma there was Granger, a Physics teacher, and Wendy, a special education English and History teacher.

After all of the introductions, a man piped up and asked, “Any business managers?” Everyone laughed, as he appeared to feel outnumbered. He added, “I’m into sales.” Everyone said almost in unison, “So are we!” We sell education.

Windy Point

When the train really got going, everyone’s voices fell to a hush as they gazed out upon the jaw-dropping scenery. My neighbor Cindy and I raved about the rainbow-speckled fields of flowers, while Granger took shots of the mountain vistas. We were in the last car, and a George Takei look-alike spent the whole trip on the open platform just outside the back of our car. He was an elderly gent with white hair and a toned physique, donning a neon yellow track jacket and biker shorts. He must have snapped a thousand pictures, and he never stopped smiling.

Granger wolfed down his turkey dinner at Osier, our midday stop, and we enjoyed exploring the area, climbing a hill to get shots of the train amidst the scenery.

Train at Osier

Everyone got kind of serious looking when the tour director for the second half of the ride pointed to a hunk of mountain saying, “Half of that broke and slid off. And that’s just since this morning.” I wasn’t so sure that wasn’t one of those touristy fibs they tell just to increase interest. But as we passed over Toltec Gorge, there was no denying the dizzying height at which we viewed the roaring Rio de Los Pinos, 600 feet below. Everyone stood up at the windows to take pictures. Being afraid of heights, I stayed put.

Granger is definitely more of a thrill-seeker than I am. As we rode through a very snug rock tunnel, he was hanging out on the rear platform along with George Takei, snapping photos. I’ll never forget how he grinned ear to ear, mere inches away from the deadly rocky wall.

The serpentine rails gave Granger many opportunities to film the train winding around upon itself, and he had fun using his iPhone to create a video of the ride. The next day we would take another curvy trip through the mountains to Gunnison.

Click here for a slideshow from this train ride

< An Engagment Out West, Part 2: Santa Fe & Ghost Ranch

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in photos, travel, video

 

An Engagement Out West, Part 2: Santa Fe & Ghost Ranch

Trip Dates: July 11-14, 2015

This is the second in a series of weekly installments about our July 2015 vacation out west. Wendy is composing these posts while I handle the photos and maps. Enjoy!

-Granger

July 11-14, 2015

July 11-14, 2015

Wendy on Santa Fe

Wendy’s Post

Santa Fe has been my favorite vacation destination since 2013 when Granger took me there for the first time. We visited again in 2014 and now again this summer. Last summer we stayed at a casita, a small adobe style house with a private patio. We loved it so much we stayed there again this year, but in a different casita as our last one had a fireplace and all of the smells that go along with it.

I woke up very late to the clickety-clack of Granger on his laptop working on school-related business. I gently reminded him that he was on vacation and then steered him away to a late breakfast at Tia Sophia’s, another favorite restaurant that has operated since the 1970s. As usual, the tamales and tacos were top-notch. We went walking downtown and then headed up to Canyon Road where we saw many neat sculptures and other works of art.

CANYON ROAD: SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC GALLERY

Entreflamenco

Entreflamenco

For dinner we went to a quiet little restaurant named Pizza Centro and had some excellent New York style pizza. Then it was time for Flamenco. Last year we got to see Entreflamenco, which included dancing by Antonio Granjero, Estefania Ramirez, and others. We enjoyed it so much we decided to see them again, once again right up by the stage. We saw, up close, the extremely athletic and artistic dancing. With an eye level view of their feet, we looked on in awe as the dancers did some highly energetic foot tapping. From this point on, through to the next day, things would remain just as exciting.

The next day, July 12, we planned for more relaxation leading up to our hike at Ghost Ranch. Granger was sitting out on our private patio messing around on his phone while I was getting dressed and fixing my hair and makeup. I went out to the patio to tell him I was finally ready to go. He took my sunglasses and set them on the table. Then he pulled me to him gently by the hand. He dug around in his pocket and handed me a tiny blue box and said, “Open it.”  My heart was about to jump out of my chest. Trembling, I opened the box, and there was the Princess Diana-inspired sapphire and diamond ring we had picked out online a few months earlier. Granger got on one knee, still holding my hand.

Engagement (click photo for more engagement photos)

“Will you marry me, Bear?”

I nodded, hardly able to speak and said, “Yes.”

We embraced. Trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears, I whispered, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Of course, we’d planned on this proposal for a long time, and each of us had rehearsed in our heads exactly what we’d say. But with all of the emotion, we forgot our lines. And it was perfect.

Modern announcement

Later we did the modern thing: changed our relationship status on Facebook. We sat there with our phones, poised to change our relationship statuses in unison. “Ready?  One, two, three – POST!” Then we sat and watched our phones in amazement as the “likes” surged into the hundreds. It was as if all of our friends were there on the patio cheering for us. What a great memory.

Eventually we calmed down enough to go have lunch at La Plazuela at La Fonda for more fajitas, tamales, and of course, green chili sauce. Granger obliged my desire to visit the Tesuque Flea Market, and I bought a small painting of the Jemez Mountains in the snow. Then we drove around looking at the unique xeriscaping in the residential neighborhoods.

Around dinnertime we decided to walk over to Pizza Centro, even though rain was predicted. We grabbed our umbrellas, and I said, “I’m not scared of a little rain.” After dinner it was pouring outside, so we ran back to the casita, getting drenched in the process and laughing the whole way.

Roses at the Railyard

The next day, we relaxed. I looked at roses, and Granger checked his students’ AP score results. We went to Walmart to get supplies and find out Granger’s ring size. We’d shopped online for my engagement ring over Spring Break; now it was time for me to shop online for his ring, which we decided should match mine. I enjoyed searching through pages and pages of men’s sapphire rings. I know Granger probably grew weary of me saying, “How about this one? Do you like the profile of that one? Ooh, here’s another good one. Hey, what do you like about that one?” It wasn’t until after our vacation that we would finally settle on a ring, with us both wearing complementary sapphire rings which will serve both as our engagement and wedding rings.

Our Rings

Granger on the trail (click photo for slideshow)

The previous day, an area photographer had told us about a great place to hike. I knew Granger was eager to get out there and get moving. He rarely likes to sit still for very long. So we went off to hike the Aspen Vista Trail near the Santa Fe Ski Basin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We climbed and climbed uphill for two miles with me having to stop every now and then to catch my breath. The air is a little thinner at over 10,000 feet. It’s also quite a bit cooler. I actually needed my jacket, which I’d packed in my backpack. We enjoyed the invigorating hike, which was a total of 3.7 miles, climbing from 9,980 ft elevation up to 10,575 ft.

ASPEN VISTA TRAIL: SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

We saw a beautiful sunset on our way to our late dinner. Ultimately we chose Pasqual’s, a hip little eatery downtown. The menu had some strange items like an avocado shake. Need I say more? Nevertheless, we found our food to be exotic and delicious. I had tamales again, but they had whole corn in them. Granger had a skirt steak with some unidentifiable bright green sauce among other things.

Santa Fe Sunset

When we got back to the casita we looked online at the first close-up photos of Pluto from the New Horizons probe and planned for our Ghost Ranch hike for which we would depart the following day.

Our last day in Santa Fe, we had a hearty breakfast at Tomasita’s and then did some shopping for t-shirts and a few books. Ghost Ranch was hot as hell. I must say I’ve enjoyed it more in years past partly because the weather was mild and overcast. This year, only sunscreen shielded us from the sun’s direct blaze as we walked the Chimney Rock Trail. People say the heat is not as bad out in New Mexico because it’s a “dry heat.” But they should try climbing some huge rocks out in the desert. Although the sun was unforgiving out at Chimney Rock, we did see some wonderful vistas, and I got to see some interesting rocks. As soon as we returned to the park headquarters, a storm rolled in and cooled things down.

GHOST RANCH: SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Ghost Ranch (click photo for slideshow)

I was completely spent during the trip out of town on our way to Pagosa Springs, but Granger was as lively as ever, pointing out the window and exclaiming, “Look at this cloud! Ooooh, look at THAT cloud! I have designated this a ‘cloud-pretty’ area. Now that the edict is out, let the celebration begin!”

An Engagement Out West, Part 3: Pagosa Springs & The Cumbres and Toltec >

< An Engagement Out West, Part 1: OKC, Weatherford, and Amarillo

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2015 in art, day hike, photos, travel

 

An Engagement Out West, Part 1: OKC, Weatherford, and Amarillo

Engaged

An Engagement Out West

This post begins a new era for the MEADOR.ORG blog. During our last big summer vacation in July 2015, I asked Wendy to marry me. She accepted, having waited years for me to pop the question, and we’ll be married in July 2016.

While I’ve been blogging since the mid-1990s, this blog really took off in 2009 when I began a long series of day hikes accompanied by photographs. As a single man, I often had the spare time to compose lengthy blog posts tied to each series of photographs. It was quite fun to create the posts, and they’ve served as a valuable travel record for me and, for the past few years, for Wendy as well. But editing all of the photos and then composing a post with text links to every photo was very time-consuming. The process has become more of a chore than it should be, so my fiancée and I agreed we should make a change.

For this long-delayed series of posts about our July 2015 vacation, Wendy is taking over the text side of the blog and posting about each major segment of the trip in her own voice. I’m editing the photos and turning them into the usual slideshow, but we’re no longer trying to document every detail of a trip nor provide a thorough, linked explanation for every photo. I’m just adding links to the text to relevant websites and a link to the overall slideshow, and putting a smattering of photos amidst the text. That approach will make it feasible to finally get the photos about our trip posted on the internet, with a reasonable amount of explanation, and still handle our many duties at school. We hope this will allow us to continue to provide you with enjoyable reading and photographs about our adventures together.

So here’s Wendy with the first of a series of posts we’ll be publishing each week about our July adventures…

Trip dates: July 8-10, 2015

PhotographsSLIDESHOW | MOSAIC VIEW

Wendy takes over

Wendy takes over

Before our big July vacation out west, we had many projects to complete.  Some were planned, and some were not.  First, Granger had to wrap up a few school-related projects.  For many days, he worked on the new BHS website with the goal of finishing before vacation.

At the same time, issues relating to the STEM grant had to be worked out.  On top of this, Granger had to facilitate changes that resulted from the ongoing construction at the high school – ensuring resolution to challenges with classroom furniture allocation and moves as well as sorting through various orders and deliveries of classroom equipment.

The deadlines were unending, and they continue to crop up as we begin the school year with the blending of grades 9-10 into the new BHS. That’s why I’m temporarily taking the helm of the Meador blog – so Granger can continue the many school related projects on which he’s working tirelessly.  Yet, he will still be editing and sorting the accompanying photos.

Branson Steps

Before our vacation began, as Granger was doing non-stop school stuff, I continued working on an acrylic painting project, replicating a photo of spiral steps Granger shot when we were in Branson last spring.  I am a novice painter who is still learning, but I watch a few Youtube videos to help, mostly Bob Ross.  As he says, “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.”

Around the same time, I eagerly took on the editing of Granger’s mom’s memoirs, which were partly ghostwritten by his dad, who’s previously written many family histories.  I enjoyed the email correspondence with Granger’s folks, discussing various changes to the book as well as learning the colorful history of his mom’s life. Who else gets the opportunity to better acquaint herself with her future mother-in-law by editing her life story? When things settle down at school, that project will continue with the insertion of many photos Granger scanned.

With all of these planned projects came a few emergency repairs.  At the beginning of the summer, Granger’s car was rear-ended at the intersection of highway 75 and Nowata.  He took his nearly-brand-new silver Toyota Camry to Coachworks and got a rental car, which was an older white Toyota Corolla.

Wet Dry Vac

Wet Dry Vac

On the home front, he had a plague of plumbing problems.  The air conditioner’s drain hole clogged, causing water to leak into the garage as well as the living room where the piano sits.  I convinced Granger to buy a Shop-Vac, which turned out to be a wise investment.  He vacuumed up all of the water he could from the carpet.  After having dealt with my own leaky water heaters and central A/C units in the past, I suggested he spray Lysol to prevent mold and mildew.  A few days later, I smelled mildew and said, “Did you do the Lysol thing?”  No.  So we did the Lysol thing, and now it smells great.

A week or so later, Granger turned on the sprinklers to water the front lawn. He went about his school-related business inside on the computer but after some time noticed that the running water sounded funny.  Unbeknownst to him, the hose connector out front had broken during the winter.  As a result, the front two bedrooms had sopping wet carpet.  Time for the Shop-Vac.  We were in for a long sweaty evening, vacuuming and stomping dozens of towels into the carpet to remove as much water as possible.  Then I sprayed all of the carpet and baseboards with Lysol.  At last, we hooked up fans all over the place to aid the drying process.

Car Repaired!

Car Repaired!

All this time, Granger was waiting for a call from Coachworks to tell him the car was completely repaired.  After some time, we began to worry that we would end up having to drive the rental car, which wasn’t as comfortable as his Toyota Camry.  My Chevy had gotten a check engine light for the third time this summer, and we had no time to get it looked at, so my blue Impala “Xanadu” was out.  She had over 128,000 miles anyway, which would be too risky for such a long trip.  Our friend Betty Henderson graciously offered to let us drive her red Toyota Camry as a plan B.  Fortunately, Granger’s car was ready the day before we left for Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Trip Map, Segment One (click map for slideshow)

Early in the morning on July 8th, we ventured off to Oklahoma City, where we had planned to attend the EngageOK Conference sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Education.  All of our chosen sessions were completely booked up when we arrived, even though we had signed up online ahead of time.

Overholser Mansion

After lunch at Spaghetti Warehouse, we dropped by the Overholser Mansion but did not want to wait for the next available tour. However, we did get some shots of the mansion and the grounds. After that, we visited Granger’s parents.  He scanned pictures for his mom’s book while I shot more pictures of her flowers and various hobbies, happily perused stacks of old photos, and savored coffee time with his dad.

Heartland of America Museum in Weatherford, OK

The next day, we headed toward Weatherford, where we visited the Heartland of America Heritage Museum and met a friendly docent, Dr. Les Price from Bartlesville. He informed us that he is part of the renowned family of Price Tower fame. He introduced us to all kinds of technology from yesteryear as well as old cars and Native American beadwork.

Another lively docent showed us a diner where Elvis Presley was known to drop in. We also saw a replica of an old school house.  The lady docent asked Granger if he was a professor.  He told her he is a high school AP Physics teacher, and from then on, we jokingly addressed him as “Professor Meador.”

Scrumptious fixin’s at Calico County

Next, it was on to Amarillo, with a break to walk in the city park at Groom. When we reached Amarillo, we feasted on Blue Sky Burgers.  The following day, we ate at Calico County Restaurant, which we deemed “better than home cookin’.”  As an appetizer, we had mouthwatering mini cinnamon rolls and biscuits.  The chicken fried chicken was perfectly fluffy and crunchy.  After my college stint as a cook at Charlie’s Chicken, I can tell you that this breading was a thing of beauty.  Everything was so delicious that I insisted that we eat here again ASAP.

While we were in Amarillo, we also visited a few art venues.  First, we went to the almost completely deserted Sunset Art Gallery of Amarillo, a huge indoor mall, where only 3 or 4 artists were selling their pieces — their “big event” wasn’t until the following day.  The only life in the place was a scattering of senior citizens strolling briskly around the mall for exercise.  Even though the stop was mostly unmemorable, I learned some painting tips from a friendly retired teacher who was painting a gigantic red poppy blossom on an expansive canvas.

Amarillo Museum of Art

Afterwards, we visited the Amarillo Museum of Art on the Amarillo College campus where we examined works from European, Asian, and Contemporary American Art. The most striking exhibit began with a bright aqua truck similar to the vehicle from Beverly Hillbillies. That was followed by a mind-boggling assortment of paintings depicting the truck or its various parts, and other sculptures, all by John Himmelfarb. Granger was particularly taken by some Japanese bronze statues from its Meiji period between 1862 and 1912, part of the extensive collection of Dr. and Mrs. William R. Price of Amarillo.

Tomasita's

Tomasita’s

That evening, we arrived in Santa Fe just in time to fill up on Tomasita’s:  tamales, tacos, enchiladas, and the green chili sauce that I have been craving all year.  Finally, after a long day of driving, we settled into our casita near downtown.

Click here for a slideshow from these three days of travel

An Engagement Out West, Part 2: Santa Fe & Ghost Ranch >

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2015 in art, home repair, photos, travel

 

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 5: Along Nebo’s Rim

June 5, 2015

Wendy and the Waterfall (click for slideshow)

Wendy and I spent a full day up on Mount Nebo after our migration from Mount Magazine. We made our own breakfast in the cabin, and she joined me for a hike over to the waterfall, where she posed near one of the upper falls. Then she braved the heat and insects to descend the 80 feet to the lower falls.

Waterfall Hike

Near an upper cascade, I spotted a side trail leading south along the mountainside, between the upper Rim Trail and the Bench Trail far below. Wendy waited at the falls while I explored this overgrown path. Later I would find that it eventually ascends to intersect the Rim Trail.

We returned to the cabin, stopping to pick up a few bottles and other items previous hikers had discarded. The trails here are too beautiful to tolerate any trash. Wendy was willing to hike some more in the hot and buggy conditions, but I knew she was still nursing the painful bites on her head. So instead we drove over to the park office and store so she could get some sugar for her coffee. She bought some lavender jelly, although we later found that neither of us liked it. We took in the panorama to the east of the Arkansas and Lake Dardanelle, noting the plume off the cooling tower of Arkansas Nuclear One.

Eastern panorama

We drove to Sunset Point for the view north before returning to the cabin, where Wendy repaired her sunglasses while I read. My peripatetic nature led me to embark on a solo hike later in the afternoon, when the heat was less severe. I headed out along the southern rim of the mountain while Wendy read the news in the cabin and out on the sunny patio.

Rim Trail Hike

My hike on the Rim Trail wound up being 1.25 miles, with me taking a wrong turn at a fork and walking up high on the rim behind some cabins before turning about to rejoin the Rim Trail. This deviation rewarded me with a nice panorama.

Panorama from above the Rim Trail

The trail led beside the base of the upper bluff over to Sunrise Point. It was late enough in the afternoon for me to find plenty of shade. I turned about, marveling at the vista along the trail.

Rim Trail Panorama

Deer in Flight

I passed a ribbon tied around the tree, like ribbons we had seen along the trails at Mount Magazine. I could decipher the first part of the code written on these ribbons, with “MN” for Mount Nebo versus “MM” on the Mount Magazine ties, but the rest of the code meant little to me. The trail back to the cabin was quite beautiful. A deer ahead of me on the trail eyed me warily as I approached. It finally fled,with its white tail bobbing back and forth. Sunlight dappled the mossy bluff on this final afternoon of hiking.

Sunlight dapples

I passed the turnoff for the neglected side trail to the waterfalls, marked by a stone in the trail. Earlier, a teenage boy and girl had looked rather hot and weary as they emerged from the overgrowth along that route.

I returned to the cabin, where Wendy was happy to see me. We had more hot dogs and ice cream and went out on the patio to enjoy the sunset. To the east Wendy spotted a hang glider up in the sky, so we got to swivel back and forth between the sunset to the west and the glider wheeling about to the east. My superzoom camera allowed us to see the pilot more clearly.

Relaxing together

Wendy arranged the last photograph of our trip when she saw our spectacles lying together on the patio table. She noted that sometimes it is nice not to have a laser focus on all of the details of life. Just appreciating the big picture can be a welcome relief.

The next day we packed out and headed home. We had a great time in Arkansas, but the heat and humidity will likely prevent us from returning until late summer. In about a month we’ll be in New Mexico and southern Colorado, escaping July in Joklahoma.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

< Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 4: Moving Mountains

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 4: Moving Mountains

June 3, 2015

After our recovery day at Mount Magazine, Wendy and I moved mountains…we were the ones moving, of course, instead of the mountains themselves. We shifted from Mount Magazine to Mount Nebo, which is an hour’s drive to the east. I’ve been to Mount Nebo a handful of times, staying up top for the first time during Spring Break 2014 with Wendy in Cabin 61. That rustic cabin has a wonderful southwest view from the edge of the mountain, so we booked it for our return. We’d need some food to cook during our stay, since there is no restaurant up top. So we headed to Russellville, located a 20 minute drive just east of the mountain across the Arkansas River.

Day 4 Travels (click map for slideshow)

We enjoyed a final breakfast at the Skycrest Restaurant and packed out of the lodge by 11 a.m. Scenic Byway 309 would take us down the southeast end of Mount Magazine, and we stopped there at the overlook of the Petit Jean River Valley. It is just across the road from the Benefield area. A turkey vulture was wheeling around the sky above the valley, with Blue Mountain Lake in the distance.

Petit Jean River Valley

Russellville

Mr. Conductor

We drove across the swollen Arkansas River at Dardanelle, noting how it had filled its banks with the record May rainfall in Oklahoma and Arkansas. I’d hoped to tour the old Missouri-Pacific Railroad depot in Russellville, but it was closed. Mr. Conductor was out front, sculpted by Jim Westbrook, greeting us nevertheless. We decided to walk around the revitalizing downtown district, buying some bottled pop and medicaments at an old-style pharmacy shop and relaxing on a sidewalk bench.

Earlier I’d noticed a restaurant across the tracks, called Stoby’s, had a parking lot packed with cars. It had a train theme, and occasionally someone would pull the steam whistle out front. So we walked across the tracks to enjoy a French Dip and a Chicken Salad Pita while large-scale model trains travelled overhead. I happily sounded the whistle as we left. We stopped at a bakery next door. Wendy purchased yummy cookies and Wedding Cake cupcakes, which were almond flavored, white cakes with white icing, candy pearls, and raspberry filling.

We tried to get back across the tracks to reach our car but were stymied by a stopped train. It was stalled on the tracks, blocking all of the downtown intersections. We wandered about, finding shade beneath a tree as I examined online maps to verify there were no pedestrian viaducts we could use. Wendy laughed at our backlot surroundings, accented by a used syringe lying in the grass nearby. But she later said she especially liked this unplanned break in the day, with us chatting as we waited almost half an hour for the train to get moving and clear the tracks.

Even with that delay, we had some time to kill before we could check into our cabin up on the mountain. So we shopped at an old-style Ace Hardware Store, with many narrow aisles filled with merchandise from floor to way overhead. The wealth of merchandise reminded me of the old Johnston’s store in Cassville, Missouri, where their motto was, “If you can’t find it, we haven’t unpacked it yet!” The store manager was a character too, commenting about one of his employees, “He’s the south end of a northbound mule.”

Hairpin curves to Mount Nebo

We then stopped at the Harp’s grocery in Dardanelle to pick up food for our stay. The kindly old cashier there was funny, too. She asked where we were headed, and when we said we were staying up on Mount Nebo, she exclaimed how she had lived in the area her whole life but had never gone up the mountain, since she hates heights. What a contrast to my love for a high panoramic view, which would soon have us ascending the mountain along the hairpin curves of highway 155.

Mount Nebo

The clerk at the park office remembered me as I checked us in. We made our way to Cabin 61 to unload supplies, with Wendy spotting deer along the way.

The view near our cabin

The view was spectacular from the cabin’s perch on the mountain rim.

Our cabin on Mount Nebo

Sadly, I had to spend part of the afternoon coordinating grant purchases on my laptop computer, which I tethered to my iPhone for internet service. With that accomplished, I eagerly headed out for a short hike while Wendy relaxed with her iPad, recovering from a headache, the result of painful, swollen bug bites on her scalp from a previous hike.

Upper waterfall

I walked north along the Rim Trail from our cabin to the waterfall, which the clerk at the park office had said was in good flow. Back in the 1930s, the CCC built a trail alongside the waterfall cascade. They used only hand labor and mules, setting stones that weigh as much as 500 pounds. Their hard work so long ago allowed me to make my way down from one level to the next, taking photographs and shooting video clips. I followed the trail back and forth, reaching the big lower falls where the trail passes behind the cascade.

Lower Waterfall at Mount Nebo

The cool mist was welcome as I watched the water run onward to be lost in the woods below. The beautiful trail led around to a large rockfall I remembered from a previous hike. It was warm, so I did not go all of the way down to Gum Springs, instead turning around for the arduous but invigorating ascent back to the mountain rim.

The Woes of Frank the Golfer

I was quite hot when I returned to the cabin, stripping off my shirt to cool down on the patio and enjoy the vista. Wendy joined me to relax in the sun and the cool breeze. Dinner was hot dogs and ice cream, with Wendy sharing some of the rap music of Eminem and Busta Rhymes. She had her work cut out for her, as I can’t stand most rap.

We perused the cabin guest book, finding our entry from March 2014 and relishing a hilarious entry Wendy found from Frank the Golfer.

Our next day would be spent on the mountain, featuring a longer hike along the Rim Trail around to Sunrise Point.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 5: Along Nebo’s Rim >

< Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 3: Cameron Bluff

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 3: Cameron Bluff

June 2, 2015

The day after our hike on Mount Magazine, I had breakfast on my own, returning to the room to work on orders for a school grant while Wendy relaxed with funny videos on her iPad. I enticed her to go for a “short walk” on the Old Lodge Trail just off the new lodge’s patio. It wasn’t a very long trail, but it made a steep descent down the hillside then headed east through overgrowth before a steep ascent back to the cabins east of the new lodge.

Mount Magazine After the Great Depression

Old Lodge (click photo for slideshow)

The peaceful era of the early settlers on the mountain ended with the Great Depression of the 1930s as farms wore out, the stock market crashed, and people had no money for leisure. Most of the land on the mountain was turned over to the government because of unpaid taxes during this time. The Greenfields were the last family on the mountain, and they were forced to leave in 1936. That same year, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) began building a road across the mountain, linking the towns of Havana and Paris; it is now the Scenic Byway 309 one uses to visit the state park.

The Forest Service took over the mountain in 1938, and the WPA built 18 cabins on either side of a lodge, which was a two-story building with 26 guest rooms, a kitchen, dining room, and a stone patio with a wonderful view of the Petit Jean River Valley and the Ouachita Mountains. That lodge burned in 1971, and visitors to the mountain declined. A new state park was authorized in 1983 but did not open until 1998. From 2004 to 2006 the new lodge and 13 cabins were built just above the location of the former structures.

Wendy and I could find no traces of the former lodge amidst the overgrowth along the trail, which led down to a bluff line, which it followed for awhile before leading back up. Trails with big elevation changes were not welcome after the trek of the day before, so we opted to take the nearby drive at Cameron Bluff to various overlooks.

Central area of Mount Magazine State Park

Cameron Bluff

After the Civil War, Confederate veteran Thomas Rush Cameron moved his family from Georgia to Arkansas. For a while, they lived near Chickalah, south of Dardanelle. Cameron was advised to seek a higher elevation to help his wife’s respiratory condition. One day while bear hunting on the mountain, he discovered a flat, fertile area above a peninsula of bluffs that overlooked the northern slope of Mount Magazine. His family established a homestead on what is now called Cameron Bluff. What is now a heavily forested modern camping area was once farm fields and orchards. The magnificent background above the bluffs created a romantic site for weddings. The first known wedding held there was that of Lois Cameron to Daniel McGuire, and this scenic setting is still a popular site for exchanging vows.

Cameron Bluff Overlook Steps

Cameron Bluff drive opened in 1967 and is a one-way loop around the perimeter of the former farm. The main overlook is tremendous and features a dramatic series of steps on one end, where we happily posed. To the side one can view the towering layers of rock.

At Cameron Bluff

Cameron Bluff Overlook

Then we drove to the nearby remains of an amphitheater built by the Civilian Conservation Corps for sunrise services. A social trail on one side led to a precarious overlook where we could look across the gap to the steps where we had been a few minutes before.

Our final stop on the bluff was an overlook featuring a stone gazebo and signage to help identify landmarks. We could see the lower wall of the amphitheater on the edge of the bluff to our left.

Gazebo

Benefield Area

We drove over to the Benefield area at the park’s southeastern edge, with Wendy enjoying seeing deer by the roadside. In 1880, Benjamin Benefield was granted title to 160 acres of land. The Benefield family’s first home was a log cabin with a lean-to kitchen. Later a two-story house with four upstairs bedrooms was built. The Benefield’s seven children helped to clear and farm approximately 40 acres of onions, turnips, potatoes, an apple orchard, and vineyard. A grave near the entrance to the park’s picnic area is the final resting place of one of the Benefield children, and the CCC developed picnic and camping areas here in the late 1930s, but they were abandoned in World War II and not revived for decades. On a later visit to the mountain, I will take Wendy hiking on the trails around this end of the park, including the shorter CCC-built East Loop and longer Bear Overlook Trail and Will Apple’s Road.

Brown Spring

West end antennas from Cameron Bluff

We then drove to the opposite end of the mountain, the area called Brown’s Spring. It was settled by Benjamin Brown, a farmer who made extra money by supplying tourists with mules to ride. His two sons settled adjoining land to the west. Someday I’ll take Wendy along the unofficial trail leading west along the north rim of the mountain here over to the antennas which dot the western tip of the mountain.

We were spent for the day and returned to the hotel for a nap and a dinner featuring tasty Baby Bear Burgers and a shared slice of Possum Pie.

The next day we would head east to Russellville and Mount Nebo.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 4: Moving Mountains >

< Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 2: Hiking on Mount Magazine

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel

 

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 2: Hiking on Mount Magazine

June 1, 2015

The day after we drove to Mount Magazine, Wendy and I found the clouds lifting from the Petit Jean River Valley.

Mount Magazine Day 2 (click image for slideshow)

We enjoyed a tasty and late breakfast in the Skycrest Restaurant. Then we got our hiking packs and sprayed down with Cutter. To thwart ticks, we both wore long pants. We ended up hiking 5.2 miles, setting out from the lodge along a side leg of the Signal Hill Trail to take the scenic North Rim Trail over to the park visitor center. From there we used the Greenfield and Mossback Ridge Trails to return to the lodge in a large loop. The overall hike had an elevation gain of 885 feet, with the trails generally descending on the path to the Visitor Center and then climbing steeply up to Mossback Ridge before descending back to the Signal Hill Trail to return to the lodge. The average slope on our hike was 5.7%.

Mount Magazine Hike

Signal Hill & North Rim Trails

Mossback Ridge Trail

A fairly dry ascent up Signal Hill was followed by a muddy descent to reach a brief segment of the Mossback Ridge Trail, denoted by yellow badge blazes. We then shifted onto the North Rim Trail, which thankfully was drier, punctuated by occasional creek crossings. This trail featured wildflowers on the south side and a series of panoramic views to the north. The tree badges changed to red. We saw Spiderwort along with many Carolina Rose or Pasture Rose blooms. The aroma of the latter flowers delighted Wendy. We were afforded repeated glimpses of Cameron Bluff across the Gutter Rock Creek Valley, with the bluff’s towering layers of rock jutting from the tree cover.

Stream on the North Rim Trail

Later we could see past the end of Cameron Bluff to the lowlands beyond, and Wendy enjoyed more Carolina Roses, holding one up to a Spiderwort for comparison. We passed a beautiful stream, and I shot video of the waterfall. Then we posed at Dill Point, enjoying the panorama during a trail snack break.

Wildflowers compared

At Dill Point

The trail wound onward, with a panoramic north view to our left.

North Rim Trail

Along the trail beyond Dill Point we passed trees covered in fungi and found a Fire Pink wildflower, more Carolina roses, and enjoyed more panoramas. Wendy spotted a spiderweb covered in droplets. The trail led on to Dill Creek, with its pretty little waterfall.

Dill Creek

We found a Lanceleaf Coreopsis and rock with mold spots before we reached School Creek, which wound through the woods to a rocky ford for our crossing. Wendy got a picture of me from behind as I was considering shots along the creek. We were 2.5 miles into our hike when we reached the park’s Visitor Center.

Granger at School Creek

Visitor Center

Hummingbird

We refreshed ourselves at the center, with Wendy browsing through the shop and purchasing a Mount Magazine coffee mug for herself and some local black raspberry jelly for me. Meanwhile, I surveyed the exhibits and found a side room with large lounge chairs and a bank of windows looking out over the forest. There we relaxed and watched hummingbirds flit at a feeder, including a ruby throated bird which warily eyed an intruding insect. Then we bought some sodas and snacks and ate them out front in preparation for our hike back to the lodge.

Greenfield Trail

We walked across the highway to the Greenfield picnic area to find the matching trail. That area was once the Greenfield family’s farm.

Will and Lulah Greenfield

Greenfield Family

Will and Lulah Greenfield established a home near the head of Bear Hollow in 1893. Nine of their ten children were born on the mountain. The Greenfields expanded their house to rent out rooms and, in addition, built seven cabins to accommodate tourists escaping the summer heat in the valleys below.

Wendy’s Commentary

Wendy was less than delighted that we had a big climb ahead to make our way up Mossback Ridge. The little drawing she made on our daily log illustrates her viewpoint as I merrily traipsed up the slope, with a tick along for the ride on the outside of my protective clothing. We crossed Big Shoal Creek and admired a colorful tree fungus and a rock shining with crystals.

Mossback Ridge Trail

After about a mile of hiking along the Greenfield Trail, we turned west onto the Mossback Ridge Trail, which began as a straightaway of taller grass through the forest. There was moss on the ground, but that is not the true origin of the name for this trail and ridge; “Mossback” is actually a corruption of “Morsbach”:

Morsbach at the Summer School

Albert Morsbach

Albert was the son of Friedrich August Morsbach. Friedrich was a Union veteran from the Civil War who hailed from Germany. He had arrived on the mountain in 1880 and was granted title to 80 acres on the northeastern leg of the mountaintop five years later. Like other homesteaders, he cleared his land for farming, a difficult task including removing an endless supply of rocks. All around his farm, these rocks were used to form fences and buildings. Friedrich’s son, Albert, and daughter, Clara, settled on what is now called Mossback Ridge. Albert’s first wife, Serena, died in 1896, and was buried on the northern slope of Mossback Ridge.

Albert married Susannah Walker the following year, and they raised four children. Children on the mountain attended classes in a one-room school house on the northern slope of Mossback Ridge not far from Serena Morsbach’s grave. The “Summer Home School” started in the late 1800s and had as many as 40 students. Albert Morsbach was one of the early teachers. Some of the students, like Tony Brown, became teachers in the school even though they lacked formal high school educations. The original building burned in 1920.

Butterfly Feeding

Along Mossback Ridge we saw many colorful butterflies flitting from one wildflower to another. The trail wound on for over a mile along the undulating ridge before descending to where we could cross the valley toward Signal Hill and the lodge. On the final stretch of the Mossback Ridge Trail we passed a small ruined building and other signs of abandoned park development.

Soon we were climbing the hill back to the lodge, where we carefully isolated our clothing and checked for ticks, and then bathed and rested. I know I was quite relaxed, since I actually sat out on the balcony with only my bath towel for modesty. It had been a great hike, and we wrapped up the day with dinner at the Skycrest and enjoyed the dusk view from the mountaintop, walking back to our room with the moon up in the evening sky.

Moon over the valley

The next day would be one of recovery, featuring a drive to the overlooks of nearby Cameron Bluff.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 3: Cameron Bluff >

Starting Summer in Arkansas, Day 1: Lodged Atop Mount Magazine

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 
 
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