I love national parks. Every time I set foot in one I feel thankful that past generations had the foresight to protect special places all over our country. It makes me feel lucky and proud and profoundly happy.
So last weekend, when I had the chance to spend three days exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park with my cousin I was giddy with excitement. I started bouncing and fidgeting in the car before we even reached Tennessee. And this park did not disappoint.
With over 800 miles of trail, it is a great place for hikers of all levels, and offered a wide range of trail lengths and levels of difficult. We spent our first two days going up. I love long trails and big views and that is exactly what we got. On day one, we struck out on a section of the Appalachian Trail stretching from Newfound Gap to a little rocky bluff called Charlies Bunion. The section we did, just over 8 miles round trip, was a steady climb through bare trees and rocky soil ending with awesome views out across the valley. The famous blue-gray haze of the mountains drifted out in front of us and the spine of ridges snaked across the rolling hills of this area like rippling water.
On day two, we did my favorite hike, the Alum Cave Trail up to the summit of Mount Le Conte. At just over 11 miles round trip, this hike offered every stage of beauty the park had to reveal. The trail starts out crisscrossing a clear, boulder strewn river banked by thick stretches of deep, green rhododendrons. I can’t even imagine how pretty this section would be when they are in bloom as it was beautiful with the simple palette of green.
The first main attraction you reach is a natural rock arch, that you hike under where you begin the great march up and up and up. Here the terrain breaks away into rocky outcroppings and brief glimpses between trees of the views that are coming. The trail is rocky, and in some places, steep, but worth it for the views. About 2.5 miles in, you reach Alum Cave Bluffs, a wide stretch of rocks carved out into a dust-colored overhang.
The next section, above the bluffs, offers the best views we saw during our trip: miles and miles and miles of mountain shadows like layers of blue-gray sharks teeth reaching so deep into the horizon it is hard to tell where the mountains end and the clouds begin. Every turn offered more views. And at the top, just above the only lodge in the park (not accessible by car), is the final spur trail to the cliffs that dead-ends at the edge of a rock outcropping that simply drops off into mountain views.
After sitting at the top, basking in the sun and views, it is almost impossible to come down. So beautiful.
Our final day, we traveled to the west side of the park to do the historic driving loop at Cades Cove and for a short hike out to Abrams Falls. This side of the park is very different and showcased much of the history of people in this area. It was interesting to experience a new perspective on what the park encompasses.
Here, the trail follows the river with little drops and rises until it reaches the main attraction: Abrams Falls. The falls are about 30 feet and cascade into a large pool of clear, cold water. I loved the pounding sounded that whispered and then echoed and then whispered again as we drew close and hiked away. A beautiful way to cap off a wonderful trip!
Right after the first of the year, Lucas and I flew south. It was the first time either of us had taken a trip to warm weather in the winter and it happened just as the polar vortex was covering our little part of PA. I can’t say prefect timing enough.
The gulf coast of Florida is beautiful, and we enjoyed every minute of sun and temperatures that allowed for t-shirt and flip-flops. A few of our favorites: Ybor City in Tampa, 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, Honeymoon Island (shells and dolphins!) just north of Clearwater, and of course, the highlight of our trip, swimming with manatees in Crystal River at the Three Sisters Springs.
Honeymoon Island Dolphins!
Three Sisters Springs Manatees
Face to face
Sea bird giving us the eye
As 2013 comes to a close, and snow drifts down in lazy clumps outside my windows, it seemed like the perfect day to look back. I have been blogging here for just over 2.5 years, which seems crazy and unreal and wonderful. So today I thought I would re-post some of my favorite memories (oldest to newest with links to the blog post).
Thanks for sharing in our journeys and we look forward to new adventures in 2014!
Happy New Year!
Cold weather always makes me gravitate towards the kitchen. Something about the heat of the oven and the deep smells drifting through the house pairs perfectly with a heavy gray sky and dipping temperatures. So lately, I have been enjoying the camaraderie of being in the kitchen with my husband.
We made one of my favorite things this month: homemade noodles. We started making noodles a few years ago when we were living in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and then took a break during all our travels, so pulling out our pasta maker felt a little like coming home.
Noodles are actually relatively simple in terms of ingredients, and with a Kitchen Aid mixer, the kneading process is hands free. Mostly, noodle making takes patience, and it definitely helps to have two people on the job. It makes things more fun and helps when feeding the dough through the pasta maker to thin and cut it. And of course, the product is amazing. Light and eggy. So good you hardly need sauce.
This time we made fettuccine. We made a double batch, so we could eat some fresh and dry the rest for later. It was our first time drying pasta and it went relatively smoothly although it did break in half on the drying rack, but that actually worked out well for storage. Overall, a wonderful Sunday afternoon activity that resulted in a spectacular dinner (and future dinners!).
We have an Imperia manual pasta machine, but the recipe will work with the kitchen aid attachment or other pasta machines as well.
The dough is simple:
2 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
water as needed (added 1Tbs at a time))
Yields about 1 lb.
You can mix the dough manually (which we have done), but it is much easier with a stand mixer. Simply use the paddle attachment for normal batches or the dough hook for large batches. Add the flour and eggs to the bowl and mix on low until the dough comes together adding water as needed until a ball is formed.
Once the ball has formed, knead the dough by hand on a well floured surface until it is smooth (about 2 minutes). Then wrap in plastic and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Then follow the directions for your pasta maker to roll out and cut the dough.
Finally, eat fresh with a quick boil, refrigerate for up to three days, dry, or freeze and enjoy!
At the end of November (yes, I am still trying to catch up on life!), Lucas and I went to the Pittsburgh Zoo. It happened to be the prefect storm for a zoo-viewing day, cool and cloudy, producing active animal sightings again and again. And Lucas’ pictures perfectly captured the playful, adorable, amazing moments we saw.
It seems like fall is often the time when I blink and find that a month has gone by without blogging. I am going to blame (for the second year in a row) new jobs and new routines and my ability to get swept up in it all when we move to a new place. But, it is November, and the leaves are crackling under my feet and the air is finally crisp, and we even had a dusting of snow last week (I may be the only person in the Pittsburgh area excited about this besides Lucas), and I am happy to be back at my computer writing.
So here are a few of my favorite things from the last few months.
Warren Dunes State Park
This place is awesome! I have to say, I still love Lake Superior above everything else, but Lake Michigan is pretty great and the dunes in this part of the lakeshore are impressive and humbling and so much fun to run down (going up you really earn it). From the top of the dunes you can see out to the endless blue of Lake Michigan and back towards more rolling, sandy, tree-covered dunes.
The Mattress Factory
This is my favorite museum in Pittsburgh. It is a contemporary art museum tucked in the history district of Pittsburgh’s north side. It has permanent installation as well as new pieces. Always eye-opening and interesting.
Fall Hiking and Colors
Fall is my absolute favorite time to hike and camp. So we have been frequenting Racoon Creek State Park. I am always, always happy to be in the woods, especially as green gives way to bright pops of red and yellow and orange.
Last week we brewed our fifth batch of beer, a black IPA. We are loving the process and, of course, the results! It has been a fun new hobby for us that has easily transitioned from our backyard in central PA to our backyard in western PA. Now we just have to be patient as we wait for this new batch to ferment!