South for Winter: Manatees, Doulphins, and Sun

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 Honeymoon Island

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.

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Honeymoon Island Dolphins!

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More Dolphins!

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Three Sisters Springs Manatees

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Watching manatees!

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Face to face

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Baby!

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Sea bird giving us the eye

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Pelican!

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the best of becominganomad

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!

P1010923Denali National Park, Alaska

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Glaciers and Bears in Seward, Alaska

Dalton Highway 071Dalton Highway 391Dalton Highway 098

To the Arctic Circle and Beyond!

Snowshoeing and Mushing 027Mushing School: A Dog Sledding Adventure

P1030872Back in Alaska: Moose!

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Lights, Lights, Lights!

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Opening Day: Denali National Park

P1040388On the Road: Fairbanks to Valdez, Alaska

P1050008The Southeast Continues: Juneau, AK

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Wonder Lake, Denali National Park

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The First Leg: Yukon, Canada

P1050896Jasper National Park, Canada

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The Icefields Parkway, Canada

P1050991Lake Louise, Canada

P1060038Glacier National Park (Part 1) (Part 2)

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The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

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The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Happy New Year!


Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

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.

P1070153Snow Leopard (awake and visible!)

P1070157-2Tiger Mom and Baby.

P1070162-2Play time!

P1070175-2Lions! We even heard them roar.

P1070182-2So much cuteness…

P1070185-2Beautiful Elephant.

P1070189-2Polar Bear at play… He spent most of his time trying to eat it.


The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 2)

The Adventure Continues…

IMG_6249 - CopyThe water is SO blue here

With clear, sunny skies, we continued down the East Coast Trail (ECT) past Cape Neddick to the LaManche Bride, a long suspension bridge that stretches across a quick-moving slurry of blue-green water. The bridge rocks slightly in the wind and offers some awesome views of the ocean and the river feeding into it.

IMG_6262Suspension Bridge

IMG_6264Doctor’s Cove

IMG_6267Doctor’s Cove Campsite!

P1060709Seals watching us watch them

Our next stop on the trail, and also camp #2, was one of my very favorite places, Doctor’s Cove. This pebble/boulder beach is tucked in behind a massive wall of rock and curls like a spoon before it opens to the sea. It was the perfect place for us to throw off our packs, set up the tent, and relax for the evening. We scrambled on the rocks, dipped our feet in the icy Atlantic, and had the privilege of spotting two seals at play in the cove. They spent as much time watching us as we did watching them! We fell in love with Doctor’s Cove.

The next day we tackled a long section of the trail (17.5miles) that included several community links. During this section we also met our first, and only, fellow thru-hiker. He was from Maryland, and it was fun to exchange stories and thoughts about the trail so far (he was headed south while we were headed north). During this stretch we also saw Gull Island, which was appropriately named, and swarmed with a cloud of birds so thick that without binoculars it looked like a heavy, gray cloud, crazy!

IMG_6278Rocky Coast

Today was also our first taste of the famous Newfoundland wind. As we ducked back onto the trail and pushed away from town we were tousled by gusts of wind as we soaked in long stretches of rocky beach. At Tinker’s Point it was so windy my shirt billowed out like a kite as I used the binoculars to search for whales. No luck with whales, but we enjoyed the 180 degree views. It is so neat to be able to look back at what you have already hiked and to look forward at what you will cross over in the future.

IMG_6282Looking for whales

P1060737The Coast

On this section of the trail we also loved all the deep narrow coves and the way the water rushing in pulled the pebbles up and back making a rock slide-waterfall kind of noise. It seemed like a day of endless beaches: rocky and blue and echoing with waves pushed by wind on a smashing collision course, overflowing with churning whitecaps.

IMG_6284I loved the sound here

But the section of trail right after the community link at Bay Bulls Harbor was probably our favorite of the day. By then the wind had pulled in clouds and it rained, heavy, then slow, then gave way to more wind and fog, but before the fog settled in we saw some amazing, massive rock sheets, broken in clean rectangular lines that stretched out until they disappeared underwater. It looked like giants had dropped huge slabs of rock into the water. These crazy rock formations lined the whole edge of Useless Bay. As we moved up the trail the fog rolled in. A thick layer the swallowed the sea and the coast and us. By the time we reached the Bull Head Light House, we couldn’t seem more than 10 yards in front of us. And we made a final push to Freshwater, the home of an abandoned village, marked now only by leftover stone foundations. We camped at Freshwater, happy to have a protected, flat space to sleep.

IMG_6298Solar-powered Lighthouse

P1060751Sea caves and the lighthouse in the background

P1060777Freshwater river running into the ocean

All night it rained and the wind gusted, but in the morning we woke up to sun and clear skies and an endless coastline. We decided to back track (without packs!) to see a few of the places hidden by fog the night before. The steep drops and sea caves at Dungean Cove were worth the extra hiking! We climbed up into the solar-powered lighthouse for 360 degree views and enjoyed seeing the same place in such a new way.

P1060792Sculpin Island

P1060804Tilt-a-whirl

P1060803Waterfall to the ocean

It was a day of warm weather (our only day in a t-shirt for the trip) and great views. At Sculpin Island we scrambled out on tilted rocks to get up close with a series of cascading water falls that dropped into the sea. We loved how these huge rocks lifted up towards the sky and then broke off and dropped straight down to the water. It was like standing on a chunk of ancient ruins.

P1060829Sea Stack

P1060825Sea Arch

IMG_6309Sea Stack

P1060850Nesting Eagle

As we continued down the trail we saw a series of impressive sea caves, a sea arch, and several huge sea stacks. The sun made the water a tropical-blue and we were a little giddy. Every corned seemed like another picture perfect moment. Our favorite sea stack stretched over a hundred feet into the air and was separated from the cliff by a small gap, like a missing tooth. The waves pounded the bottom and birds swirled around it calling to one another like white dots of confetti. As we skirted around it from the cliffs, we saw a bald eagle nesting on top of it like a wild cake topper. It was hard to stop smiling.

P1060860The Spout

P1060862The Spout

For lunch we pushed ahead to the Spout, one of the iconic features of the East Coast Trail, and it certainly lives up to that status. The Spout is a freshwater, sea-driven geyser that blows a hissing puff of cold water into the air every few minutes. It looks like the bed of rocks is spitting out a gulp of water. We sat just below the spray, listening to the waves crash below us and watching the geysers puff into the air. When the wind pushed in the right direction we were drizzled in icy drips of water.

At this stop we also met a work crew clearing the trail. The ECT was created by the East Coast Trail Association, a volunteer group who also continues to maintain and expand this amazing wild, coastline trail. It is pretty amazing that a group of volunteers can do such a great job maintaining a trail this long. During our 6 days on the trail we met several Association members and they were both surprised and pleased that a couple from the states was out backpacking on their trail. We also obtained our maps and some great travel information from this organization. Click here to learn more about the East Coast Trail Association.

P1060872The Spout in the distance

As we continued down the trail, it was really neat to look back and see the Spout flair to life in the distance like a whale breath. We could still see it as a tiny speck when we reached our next stop, Long Point. Here we took another moment to enjoy the endless views, gushing wind, and soft heather underfoot. I never got tired of putting my feet up and just looking as I stretched out on the soft, spongy ground cover. We also watched the gulls “deep-sea fishing.” They would fly in a large loose circle then almost on command rocket straight down into the water, disappearing for a moment, and then reemerge. It was pretty cool.

P1060891Miner’s Point Campsite

From here we made the last push of the day to Minor Point campsite, the only established campground we stayed at during the trip. It has two sites, but we had the place all to ourselves complete with an ocean view. Lucas even found a crab buoy when we was exploring the rocky river that emptied into the ocean near our hilltop campsite. A great view to end the day!

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Part 3 (our last two days of the trip) coming soon 🙂


Blooms and Butterflies and Blown Glass

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Yikes, I really fell off the blogging map this spring. I am going to blame a combination of rainy weather and one too many irons in the fire, but I am happy to say it is green and pretty in Carlisle, and I am ready to get back to adventuring!

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And it seems appropriate that my first post back is all about beautiful things: butterflies and blown glass. Last week, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to spend time with family and during my visit I went to the Franklin Park Conservatory. It is a place that holds both nostalgia and excitement for me. The nostalgia comes from my time working as a volunteer in the butterfly garden every Sunday during one summer break in college. I was quiet, and a little awkward, and loved escorting people through the double door system (to keep the butterflies in) and watching their faces ripple with wonder as the small, striking creatures took flight in front of them, sprinkled through the air like tiny drops of fairy dust.

That summer, I also helped release newly hatched butterflies into the garden, delicately pinching their wings between my fingers and freeing them with the quick flick of my wrist. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something unique and beautiful. Now when I visit, I get that wonderful feeling of returning to a special place that has changed, yet somehow still feels familiar in just the right kind of way.

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Stepping back through the double doors on this trip, I was amazed to see so many butterflies in one place. Instead of being sprinkled through the air, as I remember, the butterflies coated the room like stars across a night sky. The air seemed to vibrate with them. We spun in circles watching them land, feed, and spring to the air again. Some flew in tight groups, like swirling leaves, while others dipped and glided alone. A little girl near us held out her hand and one landed, perched on her finger like a snowflake, gone before she had time to breathe. It felt almost magical.

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In addition to the butterflies, the conservatory is also speckled with Dale Chihuly’s incredible glass artwork, which only adds to the swept away feeling of stepping into the gardens. Originally part of a visiting exhibit, some of the Chihuly pieces where purchased by the Friends of the Conservatory, a private nonprofit group, to remain as a permanent collection. Every time I see his work I find myself in awe. The glass seems to embrace art and nature and color all in one breathe.

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My favorite piece is a bright red and yellow, twisting sculpture set in the Pacific Island Water Garden, which also happens to be the home of the butterflies. The piece seems to rise out of the green like a volcano and the butterflies have taken to it as their own personal resting place. It is a combination of my two favorite parts of the conservatory: a swirling, spinning, quiet reminder of all things bold and bright.

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I think I still have butterflies on the brain!


Jasper National Park, Canada

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

After traveling for several days through the Yukon and British Columbia, we finally arrived in Alberta where we took our first two day stop at Jasper National Park. Talk about pretty. The Canadian Rockies are something to marvel at- towering jagged peaks of sheer rock. The area is snaked by rushing blue-green rivers and some of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen.

We were welcomed to the park by several packs of goats who are a car-stopping attraction in this area. Literally. They walk out in front of cars as if they own the road and don’t seem to mind when they block both lanes of traffic as they walk back and forth. Too funny.

Our other animal highlight in Jasper: a huge male elk! His velvet rack was impressive as he stood stoically on the side of a back road.

But my favorite part of the park during these first two days was our hike on the Sulphur Skyline Trail. It was an intense uphill climb, over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views made it worth every lung-burning minute.

On the final shelf before the peak, we walked through a field of alpine wildflowers. It reminded me of pastel polka-dots scattered across green paper. So cute.

The wind picked up as we began the final ascent to the summit, a series of tight switchbacks up a rock/gravel knoll that would lead us to the treeless, boulder-topped peak. Lucky for us we hit the summit as the other group was going down so we had it to ourselves. A moment alone with the mountains.

The view…wow. It felt as if we had been dropped into the jaws of a shark, rows of razor sharp mountains piercing the blue sky in every direction. Wind pushed in fierce gusts that sucked my jacket tight to my skin. I never wanted to come down.

Beautiful.


The First Leg: Yukon, Canada

We are 24 days into our journey from Alaska to our new home in Carlisle, PA, and I am finally getting around to writing my first blog about the trip. I’m behind. Way behind. And it is hard to imagine how to backtrack and tell you about all the amazing things we have seen over the last 5,000 miles. But here goes nothing.

We left Alaska on June 30 and headed straight for Canada. Crossing the boarder felt a little like taking a big gulp of air and diving into the water. No turning back now.  Let the road trip begin!

Driving east, we took the famous Alcan Highway. It would carry us approximately 1,700 miles from Alaska deep into Canada. It has a reputation for great wildlife sightings, rough roads, and fabulous scenery. And it certainly lived up to our expectations on every front.

The first stretch of the Alcan travels through the Yukon, which I loved. It is wide open and wild. Sometimes we would drive for hours without seeing another car. Bears appeared alongside the highway like dark shadows and the mountains poured across the landscape. It is a place where you breath deeply and feel the power of the natural world.

Grizzly Bear

Wood Bison

The Alcan

The road conditions were awful: frost heaves, gravel, and pot holes that could swallow a dog. But our car plugged on without incident (which we were thankful for).

We camped every night. Enjoying the quiet of this part of the country and the rush of water from rivers and rain that make sleeping outside feel like being swept up into a lullaby. Lovely.

In many ways the Yukon felt a lot like Alaska. Like home. A fabulous start to our journey (even with so many hours in the car).