NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Three Bridges Trail - Carter Caves State Park

I only had time to explore one trail at Carter Caves last week and I picked a good one!

Three Bridges trail is a 3.5 mile loop that is mostly level with a few ups and downs near the natural bridges themselves.  First up was Fern Bridge which was the most picturesque.  I had it all to myself so I was able to easily set up some tripod shots.

Fern Bridge

I'd love to share some geological information with you, but I couldn't find anything online, not even much information available on Wikipedia.

Don't forget to look up!  The crack above was pretty impressive.

On down the trail I encountered Raven Bridge which was much smaller but still worth a look.

 underneath Raven Bridge

A set of stairs led upward to the top of the natural bridge and a spur trail along the ridge.

A nest along the stairway was a bit of a surprise.  Cliff swallow maybe?

Once at the top I walked out onto the ledge.  Another hiker was there ahead of me who didn't speak English but was very expressive about how foolish he thought I was for walking out and looking down over the edge.

view of top of  Raven Bridge 

Turns out his view from the trail was much better, I didn't see much from up there!  However, I did see some interesting fungi a little further along the trail.

Smoky Bridge was located just behind the Lodge where tantalizing smells from the restaurant made it difficult for me to want to finish the loop!

But, unlike the other folks who just walked down from the Lodge I only had a short time to explore the very large bridge.  It was so big you could have driven our fifth wheel through easily, if you installed a road first of course!

under Smoky Bridge

The ceiling was a lesson in itself and I could easily imagine more pieces falling off in the years to come, expanding the "bridge" even more.

Smoky Bridge "ceiling"

Just across from Smoky Bridge was a short waterfall which made a welcome spot to cool down before finishing my hike.

Best of all?  Not one mosquito or tick. Here's a two minute movie in which I even make a quick personal appearance:

 Wayne spent the weekend in central Wisconsin on a quad trip with his buddies and reports that the ticks are active here as usual.  I'll find out myself over the next few weeks as my Wisconsin hiking season gets underway.  Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Kentucky Caving and Seeking Class "A" Advice

On our way home from North Carolina we stopped at Carter Caves State Park for 2 nights.  Like all Kentucky state parks the campground sites are a little tight for my liking, but there were a few sites that were spaced fairly well in the 70's and 80's section of the loop and we were lucky enough to get one of them.  I forgot to take a picture so if you want a look at the park check out their link.  Of course once the weekend crowd cleared out it was plenty roomy.

While we were there we decided to check out a cave tour.  Wayne gave it a pass at the last minute due to the reported "tightness" of the cave, but Cory and I were game.

As cave tours go there was very little walking or climbing, but a lot of standing around while the guide talked.  I'm all for learning about cave formation, but standing on stone for long periods of time not so much.

The reported tight spot was a passageway shown above, and it wasn't so bad, just had to turn your shoulders as you went around a bend.

Cory enjoyed the cave tour and we talked about taking more trips to see caves.  I wonder if he'd like the ruins in New Mexico too?  On that topic, we are all also talking about taking the plunge and buying a Class A within the next year.  I could drive a Class A without Wayne for trips with Cory and Wayne's easily injured back could get a break from dealing with the hitch.  We are also looking at vehicle options.  Wayne wants something that we can tow behind the Class A in neutral like a Grand Cherokee or Wrangler 4x4 but I'd like something more fuel efficient.  Any advice on this whole subject much appreciated!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Capitol Accident

We're back home again already, but I've got a few more things to share!

I didn't know I was going to be checking another state capitol building off my list, it was a lucky accident as I was driving through West Virginia to Kentucky.  I was driving down the highway when I saw a golden dome.

Of course I had to get down there and have a look.   The dome on top of the Capitol in Charleston was covered in copper, and then covered with gold leaf topped by an eagle on a 25 foot spire.

There wasn't as much ornamentation throughout the building as what I have seen in other Capitols, though I didn't get a look in every nook and cranny of the large complex due to limited time.  The Rotunda features a chandelier hanging from a 54 foot brass and bronze chain. The 4,000-pound chandelier is eight feet in diameter, made of 10,080 pieces of Czechoslovakian crystal, and illuminated by 96 light bulbs.

The walls are made of Imperial Danby, and the floors are a combination of white Vermont marble and dark Italian travertine.  But with the exception of some carvings over the pillars the ceilings and walls were strangely bare.

The West Entrance to the East Wing, East Entrance to main building, and East Entrance to West Wing feature carved heads of mythological creatures.  I was a bit puzzled as most Capitol buildings use ornamentation that is relevant to the history, industry or state symbols and seals.

The only thing I saw along those lines was a statue outside honoring coal miners.  I found this interesting little side note on Roadside America's site:

What is troubling to some about the miner statue is not the guy, but one of the plaques bolted to its base, which praises the blasting away of mountaintops to get at coal, and which the Capitol Building Commission says it is powerless to change.

Conversely, some state lawmakers have been shocked into public denouncements of the masculinity of the female veterans statue. The chairman of the Senate Military Committee has even suggested that the statue be altered to depict a woman in a skirt. This would cost a lot more than removing the plaque on the coal miners statue, thus neither is likely to happen, and thus everyone in Charleston will have a statue that they can dislike.

The female veteran should be wearing a skirt?  Honestly. I'm happy to hear that the art will remain as intended by the artist, but it wouldn't be the first time in history that art was censored.  I've been reading "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver which has artist Diego Rivera as one of the characters.  If you're not familiar with the story of what happened to his Rockefeller Center mural check out this link.  It's an interesting story, as is his life story and that of his wife Frida Kahlo.  Though their styles were different they both produced very moving work, give it a look!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Morning Walk on the Ledge Springs Trail, Pilot Mountain State Park

Gee, a gal could get used to this traveling separately during the day deal!  I was up and out the door of the fifth wheel about the time the men were just thinking about getting out of bed on Saturday morning so I jumped in my car and headed an hour north of Greensboro to Pilot Mountain State Park.

Wayne and I had stopped at Pilot Mountain in 2012 on our previous attempt to make it to the North Carolina coast and taken a quick walk around the summit.  I pretty much had the same thing in mind this morning, just a quick walk to stretch my legs before a long day in the car.

Mountain Laurel - Kalmia latifolia

The lady in the visitor center didn't know if anything was blooming and had no suggestions for a hike.  When I got to the summit I discovered Mountain Laurel blooming all up and down the road, and even a few on the Jomeokee Trail as well. Kalmia latifolia is notable for its unusual method of dispensing its pollen. As the flower grows, the filaments of its stamens are bent and brought into tension. When an insect lands on the flower, the tension is released, catapulting the pollen forcefully onto the insect

A few rhododendron found their way onto the mountainside too, but the lichen were so profuse that it was hard to look anywhere without seeing them!

From the Jomeokee Trail I hopped onto the Ledge Springs Trail to enjoy the rocky path at the base of the cliffs of the pinnacle.  The morning fog might have prevented views from the summit, but it added to my enjoyment of the woods.

I only walked about 1/2 mile and then just turned around and headed back to the parking lot.  The trail was so beautiful that an hour had slipped away from me and I had over 300 miles of road to conquer that day!  It was so much nicer to start the day with an hour of road already behind me and my walking and creative needs met without being rushed by Let's-Get-On-The-Road-Now-Hubby. Though he has admitted that taking long breaks since the cats are in the truck with him has been pleasant for him too.  Perhaps I'll have him converted soon!

Here's the one minute movie, you'll see why I was so captivated!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Walk on Bear Island

It turns out the best beach requires a ferry ride.  Luckily it's only $5 to get the round trip out to Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro.  If you're lucky you can even spot dolphins, we saw them from the dock but a group of school kids got to watch them frolic alongside their ferry.

Plenty of boat traffic in the channel along the way, folks enjoying the sun and the fishing.

The birds enjoy the fishing too, and don't seem to mind the boat traffic.  Hopefully the creatures underwater know to stay out of the shipping lane.

It's less than 15 minutes to the dock, boats leave the park on the bottom of the hour and leave the barrier island on the hour.

From the dock it's a paved 1/2 mile walk to the beach.  There is some vegetation on the dunes including small cacti that were blooming.

Showers, bathrooms and picnic facilities are available as are primitive campsites.  Bring everything you need but water!  No concessions were available, at least not at this time of year.  If I am ever in the area again I'm packing a tent to see this place in the morning before the people start arriving!

The island is just one big beach, dunes are off limits in order to protect the habitat.  Barrier islands protect the mainland from storms and provide homes to many animals including industrious little sanderlings chasing the waves to find their food.

The beach is also home to crabs, probably ghost crabs who come out at night.  Another good reason to pack a tent, though I wonder how curious they are and if I would hear them scuttling around while I was trying to sleep?

Shells that wash up on the shore are the only thing that you are allowed to remove from the island, but it was picked pretty clean by the time we arrived.  We walked about a mile in one direction and then turned back around and headed back for the dock.

On our return trip down the beach we saw a flock of brown pelicans.  A first for us!

On the ferry back we saw a couple of Laughing Gulls having a chuckle.  Not as exciting as dolphins, but still fun to watch!

Linking up to Saturday's Critters.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Leaving North Carolina

Today our little band of people and cats left North Carolina.  We're two days ahead of schedule for a couple of reasons: the thunderstorms on their way and Cory's experiencing a pretty severe bipolar depression episode as well.  We're all okay, as we've learned these episodes will happen and no matter where we are the symptoms will be the same so no urgent rush to get home but just in case closer to home is probably not a bad idea.

On the boardwalk in Beaufort

We made it as far as Greensboro tonight and then tomorrow we'll make our way to Carter Caves State Park in Kentucky.  We're hoping Cory is well enough to get out and explore the caves during our two night stay.

view of horses in Rachel Carson CCR from boardwalk

In the meantime I have a few straggler photos from our time here on the Crystal Coast, like those above from Beaufort.  We also went in to the Maritime Museum which was donation only for admittance but unfortunately didn't really have anything worth looking at.  You can catch a ferry from Beaufort to Cape Lookout or the Shackleford Banks (45 minute ride) or rent kayaks and paddle over to the Rachel Carson CCR and watch the horses.  Maybe next time, we just weren't feeling it this time around.

I was feeling good about the Happycakes Cupcakery in Morehead City though.  Between Swansboro and Beaufort just outside the Walmart, it was a surprise find while out running errands.

I decided to celebrate losing 5 of those 8 winter pounds by buying a half dozen.  I was hoping for help eating them but my men declined so I have 3 left in our freezer. Verdict?  Delicious!  Their cake is as good as their frosting, and that is something that is hard to find.  Also, their dinner plate sized chocolate chip cookie was so amazing that I found myself thankful I didn't live nearby.  Those winter pounds would become known as "cookie pounds" instead.

Historic downtown Swansboro has a few restaurants, but we ended up going to the Icehouse on the Waterfront twice because the crab cakes were out of this world.  The birds think it's a good place to find fish to eat, too.

Not just yummy crab cakes on the menu, we also sampled the seafood alfredo, the blackened mahi fish tacos and I even tried the pecan pesto grouper.

Just down the block was a coffee shop called Bake Bottle and Brew on the floor above the Quilt Cottage.

The Nutty Irishman sounded good but left a funny aftertaste - the Pumpkin Pie was the best latte of its kind that I've tasted.

 The views are delicious as well.

Also on the menu were Blue Q socks, I was so smitten I bought four pairs for Katrina and my co-workers.  There has got to be some benefit to having a co-worker who goes off and leaves you to mind the store all the time, this time their dedication will be rewarded with socks.

Life was never boring on the marsh boardwalk, and if in the area again I wouldn't hesitate to stay at the Cedar Point Campground again.

Once I even caught sight of a large bunny, hope it was as vigilant looking out for snakes as I was!

Mostly it was the crabs and the birds on display though.

As for the osprey I went down to the parking lot to get more shots and it turned out that I left my attachment to mount my camera on the tripod back at the RV.  I bought a 100-400mm lens to try out for this trip and have decided that it's just too bulky for hand held shooting and I'm just not organized enough to keep the tripod set up all the time.

The birds are slightly out of focus, whether from trying to shoot without a tripod or the autofocus not focusing on the right subject I am not sure.  The babies were too far down in the nest to see, so I don't know how many there were, only that dad was busy flying off and returning with fish often.

My smallest wildlife subject with the absurdly large zoom lens was this tiny marsh periwinkle.

Also seen in the marsh was Miss Jewel.  As someone said, "that sure is a funny looking dog on that leash."  Check her out for yourself:

On our way out of town I snapped a turtle on the side of the road that was being used as some kind of amusement.  The gentleman was soliciting "donations" in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot to support this rescued turtle.  Rescued from an owner who couldn't care for it anymore, not from the wild.  In the meantime I felt sorry for it as people were snapping selfies with it and parents were plopping their toddlers on top of it as if it was a pony or something.

All I have left from North Carolina are some shots I took when we rode a ferry out to Hammocks Beach State Park, I'll post those up tomorrow.  Sleep well, fellow travelers.