That time Piper met a Porcupine…

Flashback to last Saturday morning. Matt and I are sitting next to an older man in the Emergency Vet’s waiting room watching a nature show on TV. A porcupine appears onscreen and the man says “Have you ever seen a dog that came face to face with a porcupine?? OUCH!” Oh yes, I tell him. In fact, that’s exactly why we’re here!!!

Piper, or Porcupipe, as she may be called from now on, BIT A PORCUPINE on Friday afternoon. Piper is fine and no, I don’t think that she learned not to mess with porcupines in the future!! We were on a hike as part of our annual sojourn to the Hunting Camp, aka Globe Run Rod and Gun Club, a private wilderness retreat located in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.  As is always the case at Camp, all dogs run free and daily activities include swimming in the lake, hiking, and logging some quality time in the rocking chairs on the front porch. But this year was a liiiittle different, thanks to Piper’s prickly new friend.

After a morning at the lake, Friday afternoon found six of us on a hike, venturing into the state forest lands that border the Hunting Camp. We had just turned onto the abandoned and overgrown remnants of McCool Road when I heard Matt yelling “Piper, NO!! Piper, OFF!!!!” Seconds later, Piper emerged (obediently!) from the forest and heeled next to Matt on the trail and Matt hurriedly explained that he’d seen Piper harassing what looked like a porcupine several feet off the trail. At first we didn’t think Piper had come in contact with the spiky beast, especially since we hadn’t heard any reaction from her, but soon enough we realized that her little face resembled a pin cushion, with tiny quills poking out of her lips, gums, tongue, and mouth. Poor Piper!!

Matt quickly set about extracting the quills with his fingers. Piper, still preoccupied with the porky 20 feet off the trail, was seemingly oblivious and put up little fight while Matt performed his grisly task. After several minutes of plucking Miss Piper was almost good as new, with just a few quills remaining in her mouth. We hiked the 2 miles back to camp and tried to get cell service to call the vet. (Oh yeah, did I mention that we have no cell service and no internet access at the Hunting Camp?!)

After a brief, staticky phone call with the vet we determined that Piper didn’t require immediate medical attention since she was very comfortable (actually rather proud of herself, if you ask me) and eating normally. We stuck around at Camp long enough to enjoy a big dinner with our family, then drove home late Friday night so we could get Piper checked out the next morning.

Unfortunately, the ER vet was unable to remove the two broken quills from Piper’s mouth, but she explained that they should work themselves out over time. A few hours and $227 later we headed home with a woozy pup and a two week supply of antibiotics. Piper is now completely back to her wild, normal self and shouldn’t have any long term effects from her porcupine incident. Thank goodness!

Our trip to the Hunting Camp may have been cut short this year, but I still took a ton of photos in the single day we were there. Here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!

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Zion National Park

Every January Matt and I spend a week working in Las Vegas at a big trade show. After many trips to Sin City, Vegas itself is not very exciting but that’s OK because our fun begins when the show ends on Friday. In 2014 we drove to Temecula for a weekend in southern California wine country and last year we road-tripped east through Arizona to beautiful Sedona for a few days. This year we wanted to find another 3-day weekend getaway within driving distance, so after much research Matt and I decided to visit Zion National Park in southeastern Utah.

zion-overlook

Why visit Zion from Las Vegas in January? Here were our primary reasons:

  1. Proximity: Zion is only 2 1/2 hours away from Las Vegas. You can easily drive back to Vegas to fly home, or catch a connecting flight out of the tiny regional airport in St. George, UT (that’s what we did).
  2. Off-Season: Like many National Parks, Zion is experiencing record numbers of visitors and over-crowding of the single park road, parking lots, and trails is becoming a real issue. We correctly figured that we’d miss out on all of that excitement and have the canyon more or less to ourselves during the third week of January.
  3. Weather: Zion usually has relatively mild winters and, unlike Bryce Canyon or northern Utah’s ski resorts, Zion usually doesn’t receive huge amounts of snow. We figured Zion’s winter weather would be perfect for hiking and we wouldn’t have to worry about trail or road closures in January. (This didn’t quite pan out!)

All of my research on the weather was well-intentioned, but sometimes you just can’t plan for mother nature. In the weeks before we visited, Zion received unusually heavy rain and snowfall. The rain caused mud and rock slides and, much to my dismay, a 200-ton boulder slide covered and closed the only road in and out of the canyon the Friday night before we left for Vegas. I stalked Zion’s social media all week — would we be able to get into the canyon or should we cancel our trip and plan to go somewhere else?? — and was extremely relieved when the Park Service reopened the road on Thursday, just 48 hours before we arrived. The weather forecast called for near-constant snow and rain, but once the road reopened we were determined to stick to our original itinerary.

January 2017 Rockslide in Zion NP (article / source)

January 2017 Rockslide in Zion NP (article / source)

Matt and I pulled into Springdale, Utah on Saturday afternoon, just in time to see a snow storm roll over the tops of the mountains around the canyon. We paid our $30 entry fee (good for a 7 day pass) and ventured into wintery Zion. The road along the canyon floor was wet and slushy, but the snow was sticking higher up on the canyon walls and at times the storm made it hard to see the mountain tops. Very dramatic! We hiked the short Riverside Walk trail, took lots of pictures, and ended the afternoon with an early dinner and beer tasting at the Zion Brewery.

Sunday we woke up early, had a massive breakfast at Oscars (one of the few Springdale restaurants that was open during this particular off-season week) and headed back into the canyon. We warmed up with a short hike to Weeping Rock, then headed up the switchbacks next to Weeping Rock for a few hundred yards to catch a better view of yet another storm that was obscuring the opposite canyon wall.

Next, we drove to the Grotto trailhead and hiked along the Kayenta Trail to access the Emerald Pools Trail. Lower Emerald Pools trail was closed due to falling ice, but we were able to hike right up to Middle Emerald Pool… just close enough to see a sign warning us about falling off the edge of the cliff! After a lot of snowy climbing we finally reached Upper Emerald Pool, which had a dramatic waterfall cascading off the top of the canyon into the secluded pool below. We hardly saw anyone on this hike and the waterfall was well worth the climb.

After lunch we decided to check out the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. Completed by the CCC in 1930, this 1.1 mile tunnel is bored directly through the canyon walls. It has a low ceiling, no lighting except for a few gallery “windows” cut out through the cliff walls, and is accessed from the west by driving up a series of harrowing switchbacks on Route 9. Normally I have no issue with steep drop offs, but the precipitation that started out as rain on the canyon floor became progressively snowier as our Jeep climbed up and up towards the tunnel entrance. By the time we got to the tunnel it was snowing heavily and the road was completely covered, so entering the dark, dry tunnel was a bit of a relief… until we came out on the other side and discovered that the snow was MUCH heavier on the east end. We paused for a quick photo, then headed back west through the tunnel and down the snowy switchbacks towards the canyon floor. I think I held my breath for about 5 minutes straight as we made our descent!!

On Monday we set out on our longest hike of the weekend – the trek to Zion’s famous “Angels Landing” viewpoint. Except that we didn’t make it all the way to Angels Landing, which can only be reached by way of a treacherous climb along a narrow, rocky spine with sheer drops on each side. Due to the heavy snow that blanketed the trail and the safety chains Matt and I decided to play it safe and stopped just short of the final viewpoint at a spot known as Scout Lookout. From Scout Lookout we still had a great view of the canyon floor below which was enough for me. After seeing the many signs warning about people falling to their deaths I had no desire to try to attempt the final climb to Angels Landing!

After a satisfying lunch at Cafe Soleil Matt and I decided to give the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel one more try. Although the near-constant drizzle did change over to light snow as we ascended the mountain, the road remained fairly clear and we felt much safer this time around. We repeated the eerie drive through the dark tunnel (with no other cars in sight!) and emerged on the snowy east side again. We wanted to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail which is supposed to have great views of Zion Canyon, but unfortunately yet another storm cloud was obscuring the view. I was a little leery of the steep drop-offs and approaching storm, but Matt was undeterred and insisted we give the rocky cliffside trail a try.

Shortly into our hike we had paused for a photo when Matt excitedly exclaimed, “LOOK!! A GOAT!!!!” And sure enough, a big-horned sheep (we called him a goat the whole time we were up there) was standing squarely on the trail 20 feet ahead of us, utterly unimpressed by our presence. We cautiously watched the “goat” from our spot on the trail, wondering how the heck he managed to end up on a 3 foot wide ledge with a sheer cliff wall above him and a steep drop off below. We didn’t have to wonder for long, however, because soon he decided he’d had enough tourist-watching for one day and casually stepped off the edge of the cliff into a snowy bush for a leafy snack. It was fascinating to see him effortlessly navigate the mountainside! We carefully continued our hike and passed within a few feet of him, right before he launched himself down the near-vertical wall to some lower destination that we couldn’t see over the cliff’s edge. What a cool way to end our trip!

After a safe drive through the tunnel and down the mountain Matt and I exited the Zion National Park for the last time. The storm that was assaulting the tunnel’s east side on the mountaintop was nonexistent down at the southern end of the canyon, and we snapped a few final photographs of the late afternoon sun hitting the canyon walls before calling it a night. At 5AM the next morning we headed to St. George for our flight home, very thankful to have gotten a chance to experience secluded, snowy Zion for a few days after the noise and lights of Las Vegas.

Notes:

1. We used Joe’s Guide to Zion to research hikes in advance. Highly recommended!
2. You can view my complete Zion photo album on Flickr here: Zion National Park (1/21-23/17)
3. If you’re visiting Zion in winter, consider packing Yaktrax or other traction devices. I’m glad we packed ours!!
4. We stayed at the Desert Pearl Inn which was awesome – great location, nice rooms, and friendly staff. Our favorite restaurants were Oscars (breakfast and dinner) and Bit and Spur.

A Weekend in Sedona

201 Mescal shadow panorama

Last weekend the East Coast was pummeled by a massive blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on our suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. If Matt and I had been home, we would have slow-cooked a stew, played with Piper in the snow, and stayed on top of shoveling our driveway. But we weren’t home… we were 2200 miles west in beautiful Sedona, Arizona!

Sedona Map

Map of all trails & points of interest mentioned below.

Matt and I had been in Las Vegas for work during the days leading up the blizzard. Normally we would have flown home on Saturday (aka blizzard day), but, as luck would have it, we had already decided to extend our time out west with a long weekend in Sedona that culminated in a flight home from Phoenix on Tuesday.

Saturday morning we rented a Jeep at the Vegas airport and set out for Arizona. The 4 1/2 hour drive took us past Lake Meade, the Hoover Dam (which we couldn’t even see from the giant new interstate bridge!) and sections of historic Route 66 before twisting south into Oak Creek Canyon, the gateway to red rock country.

Oak Creek Canyon

If you approach Sedona from the north like we did, your first glimpse of red rocks will occur in this dramatic canyon. The road switchbacked constantly as we followed Oak Creek and descended a few thousand feet through snow-covered forest. We initially thought about returning to the canyon for a hike later in the weekend, but realized after our climb up Devil’s Bridge that red rocks + snow and ice can be a little treacherous. Someday when we return to Sedona in less snowy conditions we’ll definitely spend more time in Oak Creek Canyon.

Little Horse Trail to Chicken Point (4.2 miles)

We pulled into Sedona at 3PM on Saturday and wasted no time getting our first hike underway. We followed the Little Horse Trail up to Chicken Point and were rewarded with beautiful views of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Cathedral Rock. After hiking 2 miles into the wilderness I was surprised when a pink jeep rolled up the rock from the opposite direction… apparently this lookout point is also a stop on the famous Pink Jeep Broken Arrow tour that leaves from Uptown Sedona. Matt and I really enjoyed this relatively easy hike, but if you’re not in the mood for a hike I hear that the jeep tours are very popular!

Orchards Inn and Elote Cafe

We drove back into uptown Sedona just as the sun was setting and checked into our hotel, Orchards Inn. Although the entrance to the hotel is smack in the middle of a very touristy section of route 89A, all of the rooms face east towards a serene wall of beautiful red rocks. It was easy to forget about the commercial strip out front when gazing out at the view from our private balcony!

View from our balcony

Saturday night we had dinner at Elote Cafe, a Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Elote doesn’t take reservations so we waited 45 minutes for a table while sipping margaritas and munching on free spiced popcorn on Elote’s back patio. (As you can imagine, the wait went by in no time!) Dinner at Elote was all we hoped it would be and well worth the wait. Everything we had was delicious… elote (a fragrant corn dip), tomato salad, smoked pork cheeks, and buffalo mole poblano short ribs. Yum! The meal was so good we bought Elote’s cookbook, so be ready for some Elote-inspired recipes on my blog later this year!

Mescal Mountain – Devil’s Bridge Hike (10 miles)

I woke up before sunrise on Sunday, thinking I might be able to snap a few photos of the sun coming up from our balcony. Since we faced east my photos didn’t turn out (the more dramatic views were looking west, where the morning sun was turning the rocks a fiery red-orange), but this got us up and out of bed and ready to start our day. We had a hearty breakfast of french toast and pancakes at Wildflower Bread Company (which I didn’t realize was a chain until we saw another one in the Phoenix airport) and then set out on our first hike of the day: Devil’s Bridge.

200 Devils Bridge Trail Closed

Devil’s Bridge is a natural sandstone arch located 400+ feet up the side of a mountain. Brave visitors can walk out onto the bridge, making this a popular destination for hikers and Pink Jeep tours. I was thrilled to see that we were the very first car to arrive at the Dry Creek Road trailhead (no crowded views for us!!) but my excitement was immediately crushed when I saw a little U.S. Forest Service sign at the start of the trail… CLOSED due to dangerous icy slippery conditions. NO!!

A map of nearby hikes was posted in the parking lot and we realized we could salvage the morning by taking the Mescal Trail north, away from Devil’s Bridge, and looping around Mescal Mountain. This 5 mile hike ended up being our favorite of the trip. We had the well-marked path almost exclusively to ourselves and Mescal Mountain loomed over us in the morning sun as we circled it clockwise. The best part of this hike was when we entered a horseshoe-shaped curve along the side of the mountain – it felt like we were walking in a natural amphitheater that had been carved out of the rock. Very memorable!

The parking lot was packed when we returned to our jeep. Lo and behold, the danger sign had been moved aside! We stopped at the car for a quick water break then set out south on the Chuck Wagon trail to access Devil’s Bridge trail. The trail was easy at first with no sign of snow, but then we began to climb up the north side of the mountain. The higher we went the more snow and ice there was… at first it was just on the sides of the trail but eventually the ice stretched straight across the natural rock stairs and narrow single-track trail that skirted the edge of the mountain. Eek! I don’t usually have any issue with heights but the combination of being on a cliff AND being on unsure footing was very unsettling.

Finally Devil’s Bridge came into view. A few insane people (with their kids!!) were actually sliding across the ice to walk out on the arch but Matt and I were satisfied with taking photos from the relative safety of our icy, sloping trail.  We headed back down the mountain and made it back to our car in just under 5 hours.  Not bad for a 10 mile round trip with lots of photo stops!

Cathedral Rock from Crescent Moon Ranch / Red Rock Loop Road

390 Oak Creek BrewsBy the time we made it back to town it was after 2PM and we were HUNGRY! We recharged with a satisfying lunch of beer, soft pretzels and pizza at the Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque Village (an artsy, walkable shopping area) and planned our next move for the day.

After a quick stroll around Tlaquepaque we headed west down Red Rock Loop Road to Crescent Moon Ranch. This park offers fantastic views of Cathedral Rock across Oak Creek. We wandered around the trails along the creek snapping photos and taking selfies with my new GoPro Hero. This was the first trip that we’ve had the GoPro and we loved using it to get a different, wider-angle view of the beautiful landscapes around us. (And also for selfies… I realized that I have hundreds of photos of Piper but hardly any of Matt and I; hopefully now we’ll have more than three “us” photos to choose from for next year’s Christmas card!)

From Crescent Moon we drove clockwise around Red Rock Loop Road back to 89A. Most of the best views seemed to be in the eastern section between 89A and Crescent Moon, so we circled back down the loop road again, this time stopping at numerous pull offs and overlooks to see Sedona’s gorgeous red rocks in the setting sun. (Note: this was the only time we needed an SUV as some of the pull offs were a little rough; a sedan would have easily gotten us everywhere else we went on this trip.)

Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock Hike (5 miles)

Monday morning we woke up early once more, this time to fit in one last Sedona hike before driving south to Scottsdale and the airport. After another breakfast at Wildflower we headed to Bell Rock, one of the most famous energy vortexes in Sedona. We followed the Bell Rock Pathway to connect to Courthouse Butte Loop, an easy trail that took us clockwise around the butte. The conditions were perfect – mid-50s with an intensely blue sky – and we were glad to take this final hike before leaving red rock country.

After circling Courthouse Butte we had lunch at nearby Red Rock Cafe in Oak Creek Village. Matt had a southwestern chicken fried steak scramble and I enjoyed a grilled roast beef sandwich with green chiles.  Yum!

Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale, AZ

We said goodbye to Sedona and pointed the car south towards I-17 and the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. The drive only took 2 hours so at some point I decided that we should try to squeeze one more hike in. On our way into town we stopped at Pinnacle Peak, a popular hiking/trail running spot that offers great views of northern Scottsdale. We didn’t have a lot of time but made it up to the Grandview overlook before heading back down to our car.

Before I wrap up this (very long) post I have to mention the amazing dinner we had Monday night. From our hotel in Old Town Scottsdale we walked to Bootleggers, a “modern American smokehouse.” We ate on the back patio, right next to the stacks of wood that fuel the restaurant’s giant smoker. We’ve been paying more attention to smoked food ever since Matt bought a smoker last summer and Bootleggers was easily the best BBQ we’ve had thus far. We started with a tray of nachos heaped with smoked brisket and smothered with a perfect mixture of avocado, lime and cilantro (perhaps the best nachos I’ve ever eaten) and then enjoyed more BBQ brisket and smoked sausage for dinner. Our server brought us Bootleggers’ signature apple pie moonshine as a complementary dessert. Cheers!Snowy Driveway

The next morning we headed back to Philadelphia on an 8AM flight. Despite the fact that we had hiked 23 miles in 3 days we arrived home feeling refreshed, recharged, and full of energy. (The magic of a mini-vacation!) It was a good thing we felt energetic because we were greeted by 2 feet of snow waiting to be shoveled off the driveway. Welcome home!  🙂

It only took me 16 days… 2015 Recap and 2016 Goals!

This morning it was my turn to take Piper out.  Usually I have no trouble falling back to sleep after our chilly 7AM tour around the yard, but today I felt especially awake and decided to catch up on some long overdue blog reading.  I scrolled through my WordPress “Reader” for nearly an hour and thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the many year end recaps and ambitious 2016 resolution posts that bloggers I follow wrote 2+ weeks ago.

All of this inspirational reading served to remind me that I’ve been terrible about updating my blog lately.  I’m not sure why that is,* but whatever the case, I’m not going to beat myself up about it.  The whole point of my blog is to document the races, foods, trips and other events that I’m enjoying and if nothing “blog-worthy” happens for a few weeks, so be it!

(*OK, I’ll confess: My recent lack of posts is almost certainly because we’re binge-watching Sons of Anarchy.  It’s so riveting that I can’t multi-task and blog while watching it!)

Although it’s January 16th, my morning reading has inspired me to offer my own 2015 wrap up and 2016 goals.  Without further ado, here I go!

2015 was the year of the mini-vacation.  Matt and I traveled to 10 states and spent 28 nights away from home.  Piper joined us on several trips and spent the other nights slumber-partying at my mom’s house with her best friend, Hershey the Chocolate Lab.  Matt and I primarily traveled within driving distance, but also flew to Vegas for work at the beginning of the year and then to California for an epic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway in October.

Since 2015 marked another year of my ongoing mile-a-day streak, I began nearly all of my out-of-town mornings with a run.  This was a great way to feel good on vacation AND get a feel for my surroundings, regardless of whether I was in a big city, little town, or remote forest.  In 2015 I ran in places as diverse as Las Vegas (NV), Cape Charles (VA), Bethany Beach (DE), Avon-by-the-Sea (NJ), Skaneateles (NY), Promised Land (PA), Dorset (VT), and Carmel (CA).

When I wasn’t traveling, it seems like most weekends were spent racing.  In 2015 I completed 27 races and earned 7 new personal best times (1-2M, 2-5K, 1-5M, 2-10K, 1-10M).  The year finished surprisingly strong with 3 PRs in a row at 3 different distances.  I guess I did something right in 2015?!

And about that streak… I’ve now been running, hiking, or otherwise moving my body a mile a day every day since July 2013. My daily miles are now a completely routine part of my life and are just something I do, like eating or brushing my teeth.  As of today, I’ve been streaking for 930 days and 4,380.5 miles with no plans to stop anytime soon.

Looking ahead to 2016, I hope to continue many of the same habits, including trying to pack as many mini-getaways into our busy lives as possible.  Matt and I already have a weekend trip to Sedona, AZ planned (I am SO EXCITED!!) and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves in California, Kentucky and multiple states on the east coast at some point later this year.

One thing that will be changing for 2016 will be my total number of races.  I’m not opposed to racing 25+ times in a year, but I know I’m going to miss at least 7 of the races I enjoyed last year due to scheduling conflicts. (For example, my brother decided to get married the night before the Broad Street Run!! But I forgive him. 😀)  I’ll also miss the Athlete’s Closet Winter Series this year as the series was cancelled.  Oh well!  Racing is fun but isn’t everything… maybe I can use that time to get some extra miles in with Piper!

Running with Piper is one of my biggest goals for 2016.  She was too young to really do many pavement miles last year, plus she pulled on the leash like a maniac which made runs much less pleasant than they should have been.  In late December I finally broke down and bought her a “Gentle Leader” head collar to put an end to her pulling and so far it has worked wonders.  We still have lots of training to do, but I look forward to lots of happy runs with my little GSP this year.

My final goal for 2016 is a simple one… improve my CORE STRENGTH!  In 2015 I did exactly zero strength work, but I’m fully aware that if my abs and arms are stronger I will be a better runner, even if I don’t change a thing about how I actually train to run.

Fortunately for me, core strengthening is a goal that I can absolutely accomplish from the comfort of my living room floor while watching Sons of Anarchy.   Otherwise core strength, like my nonexistent blog posts, might never happen!

2016 Resolutions:

  1. Don’t stress out about not blogging regularly. I blog for fun and want to keep it that way.
  2. Take lots of trips with Matt (and Piper) whenever possible!
  3. Teach Piper to run with me.
  4. Improve my core strength. (Bonus goal: Teach Piper that she’s not actually helping when she licks my face during a plank!!)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Piper resolves not to dig in my garden in 2016…

08 Piper

JUST KIDDING!!! 😄

 

Road Tripping up California’s Pacific Coast

Last week Matt and I road-tripped up the Pacific Coast Highway from L.A. to San Francisco. This 660 mile journey took us along some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen and included stops at several parks, landmarks, and California towns. Here’s a photo-heavy recap of our 5 days in California… enjoy!

Chino Hills State Park

We flew into LA-Ontario airport on Thursday, picked up a Mustang convertible, and made a beeline for the nearest In-N-Out Burger. I had never been to one and the (very patient) guy at the drive-thru was kind enough to explain all of the crazy ordering lingo. Thanks, In-N-Out guy! Next, we set off for a hike at Chino Hills State Park. This park was nearly empty (it was a Thursday, after all) and we enjoyed the sweeping vistas of Southern California from the top of Upper Bane Ridge Trail.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery (San Simeon)

105 Seals at play

Matt and I worked on Friday and then resumed our road trip that evening. By Saturday morning we were cruising up Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway. Our first official sightseeing stop was just north of San Simeon to see the Elephant Seal Rookery. I knew we’d see seals here but I didn’t realize that there would be hundreds of them flopped all over the beach! Some were splashing around in the water, others were fighting/playing on the sand, and most were just passed out in piles. Very cool!

Limekiln State Park (Big Sur)

337 Limekiln Falls

We continued up Highway 1 to Limekiln State Park. Like most (all?) CA state parks, you have to pay an entry fee (this is not the norm in PA), but the hiking, redwood forest, and waterfall made this stop well worth the $10 we paid to visit!

Big Sur Coastline

463 PCH

North of Limekiln the views really got amazing. (They seemed very nice before Limekiln… I just had no idea what was ahead!) The road started climbing and twisting along the steep cliffs and we were presented with breathtaking coastal views at every turn. All through Big Sur there are gravel turnouts near all of the good views, so we happily spent the afternoon pulling over every few miles to snap more photos.

Bixby Bridge (Big Sur)

505 Bixby Bridge

We stayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea on Saturday night and then returned south to Big Sur for more sightseeing on Sunday. We started at Bixby Bridge, a concrete, single-span bridge built by the CCC in 1932. Bixby is one of the most photographed spots along the Pacific Coast Highway and the turnout on the north end of the bridge was packed with tourists snapping photos.

After taking some photos of the bridge from Highway 1, we left the Mustang behind and hiked 1/2 mile up Coast Road, a rough dirt road that roughly parallels the highway. From Coast Road we got to see a different angle of Bixby Bridge and had the view completely to ourselves.

564 Bixby Bridge from Old Coast Road

Partington Cove (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Big Sur)

Partington Cove from above

Next up was Partington Cove, a beautiful rocky beach at the bottom of a steep canyon. We parked in an unmarked turnout on the highway and hiked down to the Pacific on a wide gravel path. Although there were several hikers enjoying the scenery this area felt much more private and serene than the busy Bixby Bridge.

610 Matt at Partington Cove

We sat and watched the waves crash against the rocks for a while, then took a side trail to a little waterfall. I didn’t want to cross the creek on the wet rocks so Matt took the camera across and got a good shot of the waterfall. (He’s very proud of this photo so I have to include it in my recap of Partington!!) 😄

McWay Falls (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Big Sur)

After Partington we were getting really hungry… it was nearly noon and, due to a freak power outage in the entire Monterey peninsula on Sunday, we hadn’t had a real breakfast or any coffee. Ignoring our grumbling stomachs, we pushed on to the famous McWay Falls, an iconic waterfall 2 miles south of Partington.

711 McWay Falls

The waterfall was in the shade and therefore wasn’t quite as breathtaking as I’m sure it looks in afternoon sun, but the views from the trail were excellent. We hiked to the remains of the “Waterfall House,” a mansion that was donated to the state along with the surrounding land for use as a state park. The state could not find a public use for the house so demolished it in accordance with the donor’s wishes. We stood on the terrace of the house and took in the views that the previous owners would have had from their living room… not bad!!

Pebble Beach (17 Mile Drive, Monterey Peninsula)

After McWay we enjoyed a laid back, lazy lunch of nachos, beer and sandwiches at the Big Sur Taphouse. This was a great way to unwind after a busy morning of sightseeing and recharged us for our next stop… Pebble Beach!

797 Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach is a gated golf community just north of Carmel. We paid a $10 entry fee and drove along 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road that passes several landmarks and overlooks. After driving around Big Sur for free all morning, it seemed a bit silly to pay a corporation to see their coastline… but I immediately forgot all about that the moment the water came into view. We drove by gorgeous sandy beaches, rocky points, and, most notably, the famous Lone Cypress (above). Now I see why everyone told us we had to visit 17-Mile Drive!

After a day of sightseeing we somehow found the energy to go wine tasting in Carmel on Sunday evening. My favorite tasting room was De Tierra Vineyards. Matt and I sipped wine at a wine barrel table by an open window, discussing our favorite parts of the trip and looking forward to continuing the journey up Highway 1 on Monday.

Carmel to San Francisco

2560 Made it to the Golden Gate Bridge!

Monday morning we had a hearty breakfast at From Scratch in Carmel, then we drove through Monterey on our way north. We made quick stops in Santa Cruz and at several beaches and lookout points and finally arrived in San Francisco at around 4:30PM.

I had never seen the Golden Gate Bridge before so I was excited to finally glimpse its red towers in the distance. With all of the other trip planning I never actually researched where we needed to go to see the bridge, but as luck would have it we happened to turn right into the parking lot for the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. We hiked down to the beach and were rewarded with amazing views of the bridge… what a great way to end our California road trip!

939 Golden Gate Bridge

We spent Monday night at Fisherman’s Wharf and took a 6AM flight home the next day. Reading over this post I can’t believe how much we saw in such a short time! The California coast is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I can’t wait to go back!!

Want to see MORE photos of our journey up the coast? Check out my full photo album on Flickr.

Lye Brook Falls (Manchester, Vermont)

047 Lye Brook Falls

During the last weekend of September (aka “Pope Weekend” for anyone in the Philadelphia area) Matt and I headed north to the picturesque town of Dorset, Vermont for a wedding. After a smooth 5 1/2 hour drive we arrived in neighboring Manchester at 1PM on Friday, eager to do some New England hiking before going into party mode.

We ended up doing two hikes during our short stay in southwestern Vermont. I highly recommend both if you’re in the area and feel like exploring.  Just make sure to bring good hiking shoes and a camera! This post covers Friday’s hike. Info on Saturday’s climb to Gilbert Lookout in Dorset will be posted soon!

Lye Brook Falls Hike

Trailhead: Lye Brook Falls Service Road, Manchester, Vermont (Google Maps Location)
Distance: 4.6-ish miles round trip
Trail Map: U.S. Forest Service Lye Brooks Falls Guide [PDF]
Terrain: Rocky out-and-back; gradual uphill out and downhill back
Highlight: 125 ft. high Lye Brook Falls, one of Vermont’s tallest waterfalls

I first learned about Lye Brook Falls from the US Forest Service web site. Here’s how they describe the hike:

The trail, marked with blue blazes, enters the 15,680-acre Lye Brook Wilderness following along Lye Brook. Utilizing old logging railroad grades and old woods roads, the trail travels up a steady gradual slope. Downed trees from a 1995 cyclonic storm and a few small stream crossings make some of the trail challenging, which is in keeping with Wilderness management practices. A century ago, this area had been heavily logged, with railroads, charcoal kilns, and sawmills dotting the landscape. The land has reverted back to its natural state, but those wishing to explore can still find the remains of many of these turn of the century industries. The spur trail at 1.8 miles on the right, leads to the 125-foot high Lye Brook Falls, one of the highest in Vermont. Slippery rocks make the falls extremely dangerous and climbing the falls is not recommended.

Sounds cool, right? It was! The Lye Brook Falls trail is just a short drive from the factory outlets in Manchester but (thankfully) you immediately feel like you’re in another world. The trail is well marked and the sounds of the Rt. 7 highway quickly fade away and are replaced by the babbling of Lye Brook and forest noises. (Namely chipmunks… those guys are LOUD!!) 😀

Be forewarned that the trail is extremely rocky in some areas, so good shoes are a must. The view at the falls makes all of the uneven terrain totally worth it though!

Vermont has been having a major drought so Lye Brook Falls didn’t feature a ton of rushing water, but the sheer height of the falls was very impressive. The rocks just kept going up and up and up!! When we got to the falls we initially climbed down to the bottom, but the falls were so tall that it was hard to actually see the top from way down there. We returned to the trail and climbed up for a ways which gave us a much clearer view of the waterfall. It was beautiful!

After our hike we returned back to civilization, checked into our B&B and met up with a big group of wedding guests for a late-night welcoming party. It was a great first day in Vermont!

049 Lye Brook Falls

Weekend Getaway to Skaneateles, NY

Matt and I have been having a great summer so far, with lots of long weekend vacations including the Hunting Camp, Bethany Beach, and a 4th of July celebration on the Jersey shore. We still have a few trips ahead of us, including the Poconos and Vermont in September and a combined business/pleasure trip to California in October. (We’ll be driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible… I’m SO excited!!)

339 Bonfire by the lake

Our most recent weekend getaway took us to the gorgeous Finger Lake region of New York. We stayed with my brother and his fiance’s family at their house on Skaneateles Lake. I hadn’t been to the Finger Lakes before this and wow… I never knew what I was missing!! The views were breathtaking, the water was crystal clear, and the whole area had a relaxing, laid back vibe that was perfect for a mini vacation.

273 Piper waiting patiently for me to throw the stick

Piper is now a total water-loving fiend, so naturally she came along with us and spent hours in the lake. The water was so clear that I could stand knee-deep and still read the logo on my shoes. Unreal!! In fact, the water was SO clear that I actually went swimming… a rarity for this “dark-water” fearing girl!

The house that we stayed in was built in the 1890s. It was floor-to-ceiling dark, varnished hardwood and featured a wraparound porch, 9+ bedrooms, a huge kitchen, and, of course, amazing lake views out of nearly every window.

The sides of Skaneateles Lake are very steep so in order to get down to the house and lake front we drove straight down a half-mile long cliff driveway. This made for a fun start to my run on Saturday morning!! A creek bisects the property as it tumbles down from the main road to the lake. My brother, his future father-in-law and I followed the creek’s course up to the road and scaled several waterfalls in the process. The water was perfectly clear and I loved how it slid effortlessly over the shale rock formations on its way down to the lake below.

There were six dogs at Skaneateles including Piper. We tried to get Piper to follow the yellow Labs as they confidently jumped off the dock but she wasn’t so sure she wanted to take the leap. Instead, Piper entertained herself by retrieving EVERY SINGLE STICK we could find on the edge of the lake. After paddling each stick safely to shore Piper would proceed to chew it up until it was unrecognizable. (Unfortunately she also found the S’mores stick stockpile and chewed those to smithereens… oh well, she was on vacation!!)

In addition to fun at the lake and house, we also visited the local winery two (two!) times and had dinner in the cute little town of Skaneateles, New York. Our hosts recommended that we stop by Doug’s Fish Fry for dinner and they were spot on… best fried fish sandwich I’ve ever had!! I was too busy stuffing my face to take a photo, sorry. 😆

We wrapped up each night with a big bonfire by the lake. The weather was pleasantly cool and breezy and the views of the full “blue” moon were ridiculous. We sat by the fire as this moon rose up over the horizon… I sure was happy that I still happened to have my camera on me!

Matt, Piper and I thoroughly enjoyed our weekend at Skaneateles Lake. Thank you to our hosts and hopefully we’ll get to return next summer! I know Piper has certainly spent many happy nights dreaming about sticks and blue water ever since… 😄
131 Piper galloping thru the water