Acadia NP (July 2018)

Greetings Blog Fans and welcome back.  For the Fourth of July week, we headed to a different part of the country and were able to enjoy Acadia National Park in Maine.  In addition, we also welcomed Nicole’s boyfriend, Jacob, to the fray (don’t worry he survived!).  As usual, we hiked many miles (35) but also added in some kayaking and a “cruise” (at least for Kuk and me).


Acadia NP is located on the coast of Maine.  It’s about 5 hours or so from Boston and many make that nice drive.  We flew into Bangor which is only about 75 minutes away.  We loaded up on groceries and drove to our weekly rental.


Acadia NP is on Mount Desert Island and is intermixed with many small towns on the island.  Bar Harbor is the largest and where the majority of the “action” is.  Most of the housing options I found there (for this busy holiday week) were small and old so I cast a wider net and we ended up on the quiet (and opposite) side.  That meant we weren’t really close to anything but we weren’t too far either.  Most trips were 15-30 minutes.

Having heard how crowded it would be this week I was concerned about traffic and parking.  However, our plan of getting going early (around 7) was enough to beat the crowds.  It also helped with the unseasonably warm temps too.

Enough preamble — on to the photos!

Sunday — Thunder Hole area loop

I thought we’d get started with one of the more popular areas but less challenging hikes for our first day.

01 map
not bad — photo of my purchased map with Microsoft Paint trails!

We parked at Thunder Hole (restrooms!), walked down to the Gorham Mountain trailhead, up Gorham Mountain, down to the Bowl, up the back of Beehive, re-traced back down to Sand Beach (green line).  From there we did the Great Head loop and then back to Thunder Hole and beyond to Otter Point (blue line).  Sounds like a lot but they were short segments.

01 gorham

8.3 miles in a leisurely 6:12 (4:12 moving with multiple snack stops).  GPS said 2400′ total elevation change but you can see it was smaller ups and downs with the largest climb at ~500′.

The 3 young ones at Thunder Hole before the hike (Welcome Jacob!)
Thunder Hole.  We heard a few wumps but it wasn’t peak time — still cool though.  We had it to ourselves at the early hour.
a nice example of Maine’s craggily coast as we headed to Gorham Mountain


always in front (and enjoying the separation)
Nicole’s shot – I hope the photo bomber is dressed!
an early look at Sand Beach and Great Head
selfie time
taking a quick rest at the Gorham Mountain summit
The Bowl


Sand Beach from the Beehive
Snake — milk snake we think.  No venomous snakes on the island (so they say).  Jacob calmly spotted it and surprisingly Nicole didn’t freak out like in Utah.
he motored across the path and up the hill as we left each other alone
Sand Beach up close — too cold for us (plus we were in hiking mode).  I’m pretty sure I visited  here back around ’84-85 with my junior high youth group (from North Carolina)
Kuk along Great Head
Great Head–nice!
Sand Beach from Great Head
Thunder Hole 5 hours later — many more people and no “thunders” (tide too high now)
along the Ocean Path

All in all, a great first day and first hike.  We got a good taste of the park while getting some miles under our belt.  It was a nice warmup for the more challenging hikes on days 2 and 3.

Monday — Jordan Pond Peaks

After our “warmup” we decided to do the most challenging walk on day 2 while we were still fresh and everyone’s feet were still in good shape.

02 map compressed

Jordan Pond is a popular area with a variety of hiking options.  I tried to piece together a manageable combination of the many peaks around the pond.  We started up the Spring Trail (very steep) to the Penobscot Mountain trail.  After the summit we looked at Sargent Mountain and Sargent Mountain Pond but headed down the Deer Brook Trail.  From Jordan Pond, we hiked up the back of South Bubble, back down (green line) and up North Bubble and then over to Connors Nubble.  We hiked down to Eagle Lake and back along the very rocky (and tiring) Eagle Lake Trail until Jordan Pond Carry and finally along Jordan Pond.

02 bubbles

Lot’s of climbing (a real 2400′), 8.9 miles in a slow 7:11 pace (4:46 moving).

a view of the Bubbles before getting started
Kuk prior to the climb up the Spring Trail
happy bunch
still happy after the initial climb
Jordan Pond and some early fog
farther up
near the Penobscot Mountain summit
I made it too
Nice photo from Kuk.  Well deserved rest.  Shout out to Alex who woke up at 5 every day and got his extra 5-7 mile run/workout in for XC training.  (Jacob joined him a couple of times too).
Sargent Mountain Pond — we called that view good enough rather that walking to it 🙂
one of the many carriage road bridges along the Deer Brook trail
frog (one of many) along Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond
pushing the South Bubble Rock
Eagle Lake from South Bubble (I think — I got turned around up there)
family shot (thanks Jacob)
Happy couple!


the young couple over Jordan Pond at North Bubble
Eagle Lake from (near) Connor’s Nubble (I think)
classic — Kuk taking it in and enjoying the views


Eagle Lake
closer view of Eagle Lake (and our lunch spot)
major tadpole confluence along Jordan Pond

Nice, albeit long, day.  We survived though.  Feet still in good shape all around.  We enjoyed all the peaks but the walk along the Eagle Lake shoreline was rocky and tedious particularly at the end of a long day so maybe we’d give that a pass.

Tuesday — Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is the tallest peak on Mount Desert Island and for most of the year is the first place in the US to see sunrise.  As a result, there is quite a crowd at the top at sunrise but that wasn’t on our agenda.  One can drive up to the top but that’s not how we roll.

03 map compressed

There are various routes and options and I decided on taking the South Ridge trail.  From there we had a couple of options back down the other side back into Bar Harbor.  I had plans of doing Dorr and Kebo mountains on the way down but we simply took the Gorge path.  To facilitate this straight through hike, we parked in Bar Harbor (early!) and took the #10 bus to just outside the Blackwoods campground.

03 cadillac

7.9 miles in 5:35 (3:55 moving).  Straight but reasonably gradual climb up to the 1500’+ (near) summit.  Total elevation change of 2273′ but I am believing that less and less.

Nice shot in the Village Green waiting for the first bus (we were of course early).


the crew at the ready
another snake; just a baby — not sure what kind as we didn’t ask
first view on the way up
our summit on the left
more island views
and the happy young couple again
this guy wanted some of our lunch at the peak
at the pseudo-summit looking at the small loop trail
Bar Harbor and nearby islands down below
family shot!
Dorr Mountain across the way; we had some down before the up so we passed
down the Gorge
a quick and not particularly good shot of the park near the Bar Harbor harbor

After walking back to town we sent the kids out for ice cream and shopping while Kuk and I enjoyed a beer (or two).  We later met up at the green above.  I had planned to eat at the Side Street Cafe but it was a tad early and we were pooped.  We grabbed a few groceries and then got some awesome lobster mac-n-cheese (from Side Street) that we ate at home.  We split a single full order (!) and had the second one later in the week.

Wednesday (7/4) — Tidepools and a Kayaking Adventure

We had a unique (for us) day planned for the Fourth.  Taking advice from others, I booked an afternoon with Maine State Sea Kayak.  For the morning, we puttered around the Ship Harbor trail (particularly good at low tide) and saw the Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  I figure the “hike” was nearly 2 miles in about 2 hours but I didn’t record it.

We capped off the evening with our first lobster rolls at Beal’s Lobster Pier but had to tap out before the fireworks!  Getting up early wipes you out.

low tide and some early exploring potential (but it got better)
lovely view along the Ship Harbor trail
good snapshot of the day — the “kids” enjoyed exploring the tidepools


Jacob exploring
Bass Harbor Lighthouse — underwhelming in size but historical at least

Thanks to Nicole for the kayaking photos.  We only purchased one phone case so she was the designated photographer.  It’s challenging to take photos while also kayaking!  At least she had a lanyard to keep it around her neck.

There were 11 guests plus a guide on our tour.  (Travis was great).  It was unseasonably warm (mid 90s) so it was a great day to be on the water.  We took a van out and set off for about 7 miles along the coast.  Animal sightings were down a little from normal but it was still worthwhile.  We saw a bald eagle fly over towards the end which was the highlight.

I was the “odd man out” and got to go solo while everyone else doubled up
close up — note the attractive body slip/sock to help keep the (cold) water out of the kayak
“action” shot (this was before we got going)
Nicole particularly liked having the kayak in the shots
Kuk and Alex.  He was a bit nervous at first not knowing how much Kuk would be able to contribute.  We could hear her barking instructions all afternoon (but he quickly figured out the controls).  He’s getting good use out of that Arches hat!
actual action shot for me
backlit Kuk and Alex
it was hard to catch the seals as they usually just popped up momentarily (and behind us) — here’s one
multiple seals sunning
selfie time — everyone really enjoyed this day out
excellent group shot by Travis during our beach break
all 3 of us this time
great photo, eh? Not ours unfortunately, but it looked a lot like this. 🙂

After 4 hours on the water we were starving.  Off to Beal’s to try some lobster.  I assume this is somewhat typical experience (it felt like it) at least for a popular place.  We lined up to place our order, took a number and the food was brought out.  I liked that the owner/manager came out to interact with the folks in the line.  We all enjoyed our first lobster roll experience.

info on Beals Lobster Pier
our lobster rolls (1 w/ mayo (mine) and 4 hot with butter — awesome!
harbor shot near Beals
Beals Pier (and back of the restaurant)

Thursday — Acadia Mountain (+) and Flying Mountain

After a day off from hiking it was time to get back at it.  This time in a slightly different area of the park.  The first hike combined 3 peaks (Acadia, Valley Point, and St Sauveur).  We then drove around to Flying Mountain.  It was theoretically possible to combine these into a big loop but one of the Valley Cove Trail was closed due to falcon nesting.

04 map compressed

We all really liked Acadia Mountain and the walk to Valley Peak had some nice views but the peak itself did not nor did St Sauveur.  Flying Mountain was nice for a short walk but some were a little tired and cranky by this point in the day/week (hi Nicole!).  There was a nice cove and beach (Valley Cove) that a few families and dogs enjoyed but we weren’t physically or mentally prepared for swimming.

04 acadia

4.9 miles, 1765′ total elevation, 4:29 (2:50 moving — we always take a nice lunch break and some of the stationary time is me waiting for Kuk).   Acadia has many peaks but with the highest around 1500′ they are mostly reachable which makes for nice hikes.

05 flying mountain

Short hike:  1.6 miles in 1:13 (0:50 moving).  The cove/beach is at the 1 mile mark.

Ah, Somes Sound from Acadia Mountain — one of the better views in the park
way back to Echo Lake, a very popular swimming spot
group shot, still on Acadia Mountain
and another with me this time
more great views
The kids enjoyed their time in the lead (and to themselves).  It helps that Alex and Jacob get along well in their own right (plenty of common interests).


a little farther around towards Valley Peak, as are the ones below





No photos from Valley Peak or St Sauveur as noted above.

along the Flying Mountain walk (after having moved the car)
the cove (I waited for folks to clear out a bit — there were more people here)
a pair of jellies in the cove — another reason not to go too far in!


Thursday Night — Lobster Cruise!

I had planned to take Kuk out for dinner one night.  While researching various boat trips (for Friday) I stumbled across the Acadia Lobster Cruise and decided to give that a try (surprise!).  We met Captain Jason (and one other couple) along the pier in Northeast Harbor at 5:30.  He took us around the immediate area and checked his 4 personal lobster traps.  The season was just starting to kick in and he caught 8 keepers while explaining some of the rules and regulations for lobstering (he has had a commercial license in the past but doesn’t now and there is a long waiting list to get one).  While taking us around to more sites, he fired up the lobster pot and cooked us a feast.  What a first time lobster experience!  It doesn’t get any fresher than that; we are spoiled now.  Great evening out.

pre-dinner in Northeast Harbor
another harbor view
P/V Sunrise, our transportation for the night — very basic but purpose built
Captain Jason at the helm (and the lobster pot for later!)
Bear Island Lighthouse (privately owned now)
first trap hauled in
Measuring for acceptable length; many were thrown back for another time.  For females you have to check for eggs.  If they have them you notch their tail and thrown them back.  When catching a female, if the tail is notched (i.e. they’ve bred before), they also must go back.
pregnant crab (thrown back) — most crabs aren’t worth the trouble compared to lobsters anyway
view of trap being hauled in via his wench
the Bubbles; water view
one of (if not THE) earliest navigation markers and a seal landing spot (that’s more than we saw kayaking!)
The haul — he was generous enough to let us have 2 each (probably 1.25-1.5 lb each); he did cook up the one crab (not as good) and some corn (blueberry pie for dessert, not shown).  He steamed them in seawater (I actually lowered them in so it was on my conscious!).
Ready to dig in!  He gave us some lessons on how to eat them too.  7 of the 8 were new/soft shells which were very easy to crack (and tasty).  Kuk got the one hard shell which added an extra degree of difficultly.  The meat was denser and slightly less tasty.  Her crab-eating skills from Maryland were on full display and the other two were really impressed!
sunset on the water — nice finishing touch

Friday — Wash Out

Friday was going to be somewhat open ended.  I did have another hike planned but had some other options on the table as well.  But, a storm front was rolling in and we decided not to chance it.  We probably could have fit in the hike but didn’t want to be on a peak in a storm particularly given our lightning history!

So, we lounged around, played cards and watched the World Cup.  Plus I got a head start on the blog!  It was good to have a down day with family time particularly since we had such a productive week.

Saturday — Gardens

Our flights weren’t until the afternoon so we had more time for some sightseeing.  The post-rain weather was gorgeous; more what I was expecting:  cool morning, high around 70, low humidity.  If only the rest of the week was like this instead of (relatively) hot/humid.  Oh well!

We leisurely visited Thuya Garden and the Asticou Azalea Garden.  Thuya was prettier but Asticou was more peaceful (more birds chirping too).  We then had a quick walk around Northeast Harbor to show the kids where we had dinner on Thursday.  We also had time to take in a few quick Bangor sites (there aren’t that many 🙂 )

Not the best shot, but a general idea of Thuya Garden

Samples from Thuya below:

nice view of Northeast Harbor from the Thulya house
aren’t we cute? — Kuk loves the flowers and this day was for her though we all enjoyed it
On to Asticou




We bid Acadia adieu and headed back to Bangor via Ellsworth.  After a totally uninspiring stop at the LL Bean Outlet (not the megastore), we did a couple of Bangor drive by sites before checking back in at the airport.

(one of) Stephen King’s houses
and his spider web fence
Look!  It’s Paul Bunyan (presumably due to the lumber ties)


What a great week!  It was nice to have Jacob join us as we all had a great time.  It was a nice change of pace from our western forays.  We enjoyed the scalable peaks with great views of the ocean, lakes and coves.  We enjoyed trying lobster and staying on the “quietside” worked out well for us too.

Thanks for reading everyone!


Utah (June 2018)

Greeting Blog Fans!  Central Utah has been in our sights for awhile and we were finally able to schedule it during the first week of June.  It was great to have Nicole home from college so we could continue our family vacations.  No guarantees that we will be able to continue to vacation together in the future (but we hope so)!

The ideal time for this visit would have been a month or two earlier (perhaps even spring break) to get some respite from the hot temps but this is the time we had so we made the best of it.  Lots of early rising to try to beat the heat (which is a little easier to do coming from 2 time zones east).

We picked up an American the Beautiful annual national parks pass that paid for itself on this trip.  What a deal!  Acadia (in July) and anything else we do through next June is on the house!  Part of the reason is that the individual parks have raised their rates but so far the pass has not gone up.

Google personal

We had 7 nights in 2 different locations. After flying into Grand Junction, CO we drove to Torrey (purple above) for 2 nights to visit Capitol Reef National Park.  We then spent 5 nights in Moab for Arches & Canyonlands National Parks (blue).  We also visited Goblin Valley State Park and the Little Wild Horse (slot) Canyon (red) en route. (for a bigger map use this  link)

Saturday — Capitol Reef NP

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef NP is close to Torrey, UT, a small town with a handful of non-chain motels and restaurants.  It was fine for a base.  (We stayed at the Austin Chuckwagon Motel in a 2BR cottage).  In doing my research there looked to be more than a day’s worth of hikes that we should do so we actually took advantage of our early flight and made it to the park by 2pm or so to squeeze a few in.

On arrival day, we did the scenic drive and the two green-highlighted hikes (Capitol Gorge and Cassidy Arch).  We had a stretch goal for a third but were way too tired (and it was getting late).

The red highlighted hikes were saved for the following day.

Vacation has officially started!

01 Capitol Gorge

First up was Capitol Gorge, a relatively flat 2.8 miles that we did in 1:24.

And we are off into the gorge.
Alex found a heckuva bunker
The walk involved finding “tanks” which we thought were these large rocks but we were mistaken. I thought these rocks were cooler anyway. 🙂
We saw a bighorn sheep between hikes (in the car)
another view
there was a second one too! (nice shot Nicole)

02 cassidy arch

Next up was Cassidy Arch who’s trailhead was back up the scenic drive.  3.2 miles in 1:32 with a slight climb.  We didn’t make it all the way to the arch (hot/tired) but got to the viewpoint at least.

Trail #2 for the day!
Nicole found a cool seat
with a small climb we were able to get higher in the valley for a different view
and there’s the arch; some other hikers mentioned that you actually walk on top of it rather than under it so we passed and headed back (hiking on a travel day was a little rough)

Sunday — Capitol Reef NP

Back to Capitol Reef for another day.  We got up reasonably early to beat the heat and hopefully see some animals on our first hike.  We were semi-successful on the first but alas no animals (not early enough I guess).  The general store next to our hotel that was our source of breakfast and our pack lunches didn’t open until 7 or we might have gotten out earlier (we sure did later in the week).

We did Grand Wash, Hickman’s Bridge and the Chimney Rock loop.

pretty view #1 on the way to the park
pretty view #2
We lucked into a Jeep Wrangler for the week (I’m too cheap to actually pay for one). It was a fun vehicle to have in the parks (and I didn’t even do anything crazy).  Much more luggage space than I was expecting so it worked out well.
03 Grand Wash
Grand Wash: 4.6 miles, relatively flat (that last spike is likely erroneous) in 1:48.  We liked this better than Capitol Gorge which was similar.
Can you tell I like these “setting off” photos?  It was recommended to start from UT24 and we eventually connected back to the Cassidy Arch trailhead.
early morning in the gorge
back out in the open
First family shot — yes I was there (though we are a little small)
DSCN4372 (2)
that’s closer!


Next up was Hickman’s Bridge.  It involved a slight climb and offered a nice arch (bridge) at the end.

04 hickmans bridge
2.3 miles in 1:33 (with a lunch stop)
though not the best photo, it was nice to start out along the water
nice views as we started our ascent
onward and upward
frequently waiting for the parents to catch up — might as well find a cool spot!


Hickman Bridge


from the other side
small family, big bridge
a nice view on the return loop

Next up was the Chimney Rock loop.  This was tougher due to the climb and the warm temps in mid-afternoon.  It was probably our favorite at CRNP though because of the great views.

05 Chimney Rock
3.8 miles in 2:13 and a nice 600+ ft climb
Dirt/rocks and a climb staring at us — Chimney Rock is on the right.
big view looking back
a closer look at Chimney Rock
I also like photos of my kids enjoying the view
Chimney Rock from higher ground
Two of the park’s viewpoints (Goosenecks and Sunset Point) that we took in from above.
back towards the park (opposite from our starting point)
and another view on the back half of the trail

Monday — Little Wild Horse Canyon & Goblin Valley SP

After 2 nights (1.5 days) in Torrey, it was time to head to Moab which is about 3 hours away.  Fortunately there are two gems along the way:  Little Wild Horse Canyon and Goblin Valley State Park.

The LWH Canyon is a slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell.  Some compare it to Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ which is a slight stretch but at least you can walk this one on your own.  It connects with Bell Canyon for an 8 mile loop but given our itinerary for the day we just did an out/back through the good parts.

06 LWH
4 miles in 2:10
a semi-challenging obstacle at the start as the main path was flooded so we did a climb/descent around the pond
obstacle cleared; heading into the canyon
getting narrow!
pretty neat, eh?
another slot view
quite a few little scrambles made this a fun walk, particularly for the kids




Relatively next door is Goblin Valley State Park, which is home to a “village” of sandstone goblins that one can walk among.   Though there are a couple formal trails, most just have a wander.  That suited us given we had another couple of hours to Moab and the afternoon sun was burning down (mid to high 90s most of the week).

07 Goblin Valley
short 0.7 mile stroll (0:30) that involved descending into the valley
Three Wise Men?  A hint of what’s to come.
down in the valley of the goblins





neat to be able to climb on and around them





Pretty cool.  Glad we stopped at both places along the way.  We got to Moab around 4pm and checked into our wonderful (rented) condo.  Off to the store for groceries for the rest of the week and we were ready for the next day’s adventure.

Tuesday — Arches NP


Arches is a fairly big park that can be seen in one day with some compromises (2 might be better but there’s a lot to do in the area).  Some sights are better for sunrise and some for sunset but I was pretty confident we could not do both!  Though Delicate Arch was a “sunset” attraction it is also very popular so we decided to do it first, followed by the Devil’s Garden area and then we finished up with a short walk in the Windows area.  We got to see what we wanted to see so that was good.

early morning view from our condo


a quick stop on the Park Avenue viewpoint after entering the park and working our way up the road
a balancing rock but not Balanced Rock
random view along the drive deeper into the park
Balanced Rock with the early sun behind it
one last view before we start our first hike of the day

Off to Delicate Arch.  We really liked this one and glad we did it early as the crowds and heat were only going to get worse.  The reward at the end was hidden until we got there which made it even better.

08 Delicate Arch
3.3 miles in 1:31 with a good climb — early morning energy


the climb starts early in the hike and is into the morning sun
Delicate Arch (in the non-optimal morning sun)
family shot!
it’s a big arch — I think Alex and Nicole are off on the left side in this one
all 3 under the arch this time

One neat hike that we didn’t get to do is the Fiery Furnace which requires pre-booking for a Ranger led tour or a permit for self guided.  After hearing the self-guided description we decided to pass but if there is a next time, I’ll try to get tickets earlier.

fiery furnace — as close as we got

We continued on to the “back” of the park to walk the Devil’s Garden.  We decided to do the in/out to the Double O’ Arch which has a handful of other arches along the way.  It was already starting to warm up (this was the other option for the first hike of the day).

09 Devils Garden
healthy 6.0 miles in 3:47 including lunch and “comfort” breaks — decent climb in this one too
I usually take a photo at the trailhead to help catalog the photos.  I don’t plan to include it in the blog so the photo isn’t great but in this case I thought I’d leave it in to show trail with the various offshoots for different arches.  You can also do the red “primitive” trail for the loop back but we didn’t.


first view along the route is Tunnel Arch
and then Pine Arch
Landscape Arch — longest arch span in US
another view of Landscape Arch


looking back down the required climb once past Landscape Arch


Partition Arch
Alex (in the shade)
lovely Nicole (again waiting for parents in the shade)
looking through Partition Arch
one with mom and daughter


Navajo Arch
more precarious walking as we soldier on — it was quite windy on this part too
worthwhile view along the way
Double O’Arch — we had no interest in walking down to it (did I mention it was hot?)
another interesting view
the walk back


and down …
finally Landscape Arch on the return with different lighting

After a proper bathroom break and a bit of A/C, we drove back to the Windows section before heading out (and to the Visitor’s Center which was closed when we arrived).

10 Windows
a short 0.7 mile stroll to the 2 Windows and Turret Arch (30 minutes)


first Window
still smiling!
both Windows
Turret Arch (from Nicole)

We all really liked Arches and could see spending some more time there but we were content with our full day.  We all slept hard that night for sure.

Wednesday — Canyonlands NP (Island in the Sky)

Canyonlands is broken up into 3 distinct parks which are divided by the rivers passing through.  The closest and likely most popular one is the Island in the Sky region.  One can drive through to see various viewpoints but there are also a number of short hikes that can be added to the experience.

Dead Horse State Park is next door and offers rim walks and a nice view (particularly at sunset) but we ran out of energy after getting an early start so we gave it a pass.  [No death marches here!  I had good plans with options but was sure to not do too much in the hot afternoon heat.]

canyonlands IITS

We started with the short Mesa Arch walk, then did a couple in the northwest (Upheaval Dome and Whale Rock), and closed with the Grand View rim walk while seeing some viewpoints along the way.

traditional photo — we missed Arches though (we were in a hurry to get the hikes in)
11 Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch — another 0.7 mile stroll in ~30 minutes


view looking back into the park shortly after starting the hike
not the best example, but the parks had a lot of places with the black, crusty soil that we later found out during the Arches movie in the visitor’s center was biological crust that takes decades to form; Alex slunk down in his seat feeling horrible as he realized he crushed a bunch of it on one walk.  We usually aren’t that ignorant — at least we know now!


Mesa Arch
looking down through Mesa Arch
and another
kid shot — Alex caved and let me buy him a hat at Arches due to the heat (glad he did)


Green River overlook

Next up was Upheaval Dome which has a trail with two different viewpoints.

12 Upheaval Dome
1.8 miles in 1:20
Oh, I’ll leave this one in too.  We did the 2 overlooks starting from the “you are here”
1st overlook
with kids (he had to take the hat off for this and most photos)
starting the climb to the second overlook
and down again towards to the crater
second viewpoint
enjoying a quick rest
and the long walk back up!

Whale Rock was close by.  It’s a big sandstone rock that looks like a whale.  I didn’t get a good photo of it but that’s okay.  The best part was the views on top anyway!  Enjoy the views of Island in the Sky.

13 Whale Rock
a quick up and down:  0.8 miles in 30 minutes
you can get the gist from the sign 🙂




The last hike of the day was along the southern rim called Grandview.  It’s quite a popular stop but the crowds thin a bit if you walk the rim past the viewpoint.

14 Grandview
2 miles in 1:10


the grand view down into the canyon


a mini-mesa at the end


I can see for miles and miles and miles …


Buck Canyon Overlook

We made a few stops on the way out towards the visitor’s center.

Shafer Trail — we had fun watching the crazies that actually took vehicles down this “road”
a similar view from the Shafer Canyon (?) viewpoint


Thursday — Fisher Towers Trail

In addition to the two National Parks near Moab, there are other beautiful outdoor areas to take advantage of.  The Utah Scenic Byway 128 along the Colorado River offers some nice options.  We had 2 or 3 in mind but were starting to wear down a bit so we just did Fisher Tower Hike (link).  Good choice!  As usual we got an early start which left some pool time in the afternoon.

14b Fisher Towers
perhaps some wonky data spikes, but Mr GPS said 5.4 miles in 3:10


a view into the distance at the start
and we are off — notice the abundance of shade for our early start
red rocks, towers and spires and the sun starts to climb in the background
another great view
the path wove in and out tracing the base of the cliffs/peaks



looking back
a photo of a photographer
a look down into the adjacent canyon
another family shot — yay!
and my two favorite young adults

Friday — Canyonlands NP (Needles District)

The southeastern part of Canyonlands is called the Needles District and takes about 75-90 minutes from Moab.  It is known for its “Needles” looking rock formation and some great hiking.  Unfortunately the two “best” hikes are each 11 miles long and really aren’t recommended as a day trip this time of year (the park ranger at Island in the Sky pretty much said don’t do it).  Sanity prevailed and we didn’t try but we did a reasonable compromise.

Rather than do the full 11-mile Chesler Park / Joint Trial loop, we opted for the Chesler Park viewpoint.  We left the condo at 5 am (!) to try to maximize the “cool” temperatures though we still didn’t really get to the trailhead until 7 due to travel time, time within the park, bathroom/sunscreen breaks, etc.  We each brought extra water and food just in case.  We were ready!

canyonlands needles
as mentioned it took a while just to get to the trailhead on the rough Elephant Hill road; the full loop would have included the circle around Chesler Park had he been up for it
15 chesler park
5.9 miles in 4:08 (slow going; another reason not to push it)


unique rock formations throughout this part of the park
another submarine rock perhaps?
needles in the distance
the standard look back photo
Island in the Sky in the distance (I believe)
more interesting views
a narrow slot here too
a rare shady stretch
Yikes!  This gopher snake caused quite a screech from our leader (Nicole)
in profile as I scoot by
Chesler Park viewpoint — ahhhh
and another from Nicole
some rock blobs


Newspaper Rock archeological site (outside the park on the return) — that’s a lot of petroglyphs!

That caps off our 4 days in Moab (Arches, Canyonlands x2, Fisher Towers).  Happy with the choices as we really enjoyed it.

Saturday — Colorado National Monument

Our flight home wasn’t until 4pm or so, so we took advantage of the time by driving through the Colorado National Monument on the way back.  It’s a large canyon with pulloffs and short walks for some nice views.  We did a couple of short walks (no GPS tracking).

another sign shot
their version of the Balanced Rock
looking back at Fruita, CO outside the park


Fruita Canyon
still smiling!


along the Canyon Rim Trail (about a 1 mile walk btw)
towards the end of the canyon rim trail
another view of Fruita


Otto’s trail (he was the first to climb Independence Rock in the foreground)


Artist’s Point (for all the color)


one last (happy) family shot before heading to the airport


As I mentioned above, we’ve been looking forward to this trip for some time and it did not disappoint.  It was great to share the great outdoors with the family and look forward to the next vacation.  It really was quality time.

All total, we hiked about 50 miles while still cutting a few afternoons short due to the heat.  We did start to wear down a bit towards the end so another week at that pace would have been tough.

Our favorite hikes were Chimney Rock, Delicate Arch and Fisher Towers but they were all worthwhile.

The time allotment was about right across Torrey and Moab and the individual parks.  We still left plenty to do in the Moab area so perhaps we will return (though there’s so much to see in this country it would be hard to justify a repeat).

We’ve honed our routine to know what works for us:  early rising, don’t cram too much in, plenty of water/sunscreen/hats, bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and a simple home cooked meal for dinner (too tired to go out for dinner usually!).  Speaking of too tired:

My troopers!

The photo above was actually on our trip out (6am flight).  I am so glad that we are able to travel and enjoy our time together.  The kids have a great attitude and are truly a joy.

Thanks for reading everyone!

Savannah (Mar 2018)

Greeting Blog Fans  — it’s been too long!  That means we’ve not been traveling enough!  With Nicole now off at college it’s been harder to coordinate trips.  In fact, this was a first in that we only had Alex with us this time.  I was tasked with finding somewhere nice to go but not too nice since Nicole couldn’t join us!  We’ll save the extra nice trips for summer!

At any rate, Savannah has been on our radar for awhile and this spring break was a good time to go.  We’d visited Charleston many years ago and knew that Savannah would offer a good mix of history, small city sites, good food and some outdoor activities (with hopefully some warmer weather).

It was just outside my desired driving range so we flew down for 6 days / 5 nights at the end of March.  Rather than our normal VRBO type accommodation, we stayed at the Embassy Suites and ate out a lot.

savannah map1

The bulk of our activities were in the Historic District.  In fact, we only had a car for a couple of days.  From our hotel, most things were 0.5 – 1 mile away so we got some walking in.

savannah map1

We did branch out for a couple of days.  Tybee Island is about 30 minutes away (unless they close the road!).  Hilton Head is to the NE — we didn’t go there though.

On to the photos!

Monday — Arrival and Walking Tour

We had an early flight which left us time to get acquainted with the city in the afternoon.  I must be out of practice as I didn’t take any pictures!  (I also didn’t bring my separate camera for this trip and just relied on the ole iPhone.)   It barely cracked 50F on the first day, if that, which may have contributed to the lack of photos as well.

Savannah Dan (web photo)

We signed up for a tour with Savannah Dan as we generally like walking tours.  As you might guess from the photo, he’s quite the character and had no problem keeping us entertained while teaching us a thing or two.  Food/restaurant info seemed to be his passion–that’s a good match for us.

Meals:  lunch at Flying Monk Noodles (good but Ramen Ray’s here in Indy is better) and dinner at River House Seafood (not so good).

Tuesday — A cathedral, old house and big meal

Time for a few of the city sites before gorging ourselves on a traditional southern meal for lunch.

First stop was the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.  Having lived in the UK for 3 years, we’ve seen a lot of cathedrals.  I was surprised to find such a nice one in Savannah.  The church dates back to 1839 and became a cathedral in 1850.  It had some ups and downs over the years and had some extensive renovation work done within the last twenty. We enjoyed the 15 minutes or so we got from the docent to tell us some of the history.

View from across the street — still cold and gray!
quick shot inside
some of the stained glass
interesting artwork in the baptismal font — there’s a strong Irish/Celtic connection in the area

Next up was the Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters which are part of the Telfair Museums.  Savannah Dan talked it up (but it was on our list anyway).

From the website:

The house, designed by architect William Jay and completed in 1819, was purchased in 1830 by George Welshman Owens, a wealthy planter, lawyer, and politician. Owens moved in with his wife, Sarah, six children, and nine slaves. By 1840, 14 enslaved people resided on the property—including Emma and Kate, the enslaved nannies tasked with raising the Owens’ children; Diane, the enslaved cook, who worked to provide meals for everyone in the home; and Fanny, an enslaved child.

The house was visited by Marquis de Lafayette (in 1825) and was an early (first?) example of indoor plumbing on multiple floors.

I didn’t take any photos of the carriage house / slave quarters but enjoyed the back story we got there.

pre-tour out front (with a leaning photographer apparently)
and the back from the garden
I liked this arched bridge on the 2nd floor interior

And now for the main event:  Mrs Wilkes Dining Room–home style southern cooking served family style at a table of 10 and only open for lunch (11-2 nominally).  The normal advice is to get there early but I didn’t want to eat that early so I knowingly got there around 12 expecting an hour or so wait.  Well, it was more like 2 hours.

I asked Dan if it was worth it and he said yes (and we agree).  Good thing we didn’t know it was going to be 2 hours though!

the long, slow line — you get to chat up your neighbors though!
nice to have someone wait in line for you isn’t it guys?
all sorts of yummy goodness — there were another dozen sides I bet

We had another historic home on the schedule but man we were too pooped after standing in line that long.

Dinner:  Zunzi’s takeout (nice, light affair after that big lunch)

Alex coming back from a workout

Shout out to Alex for working out while on break.  We mapped out the way to Forsythe Park which was about a mile from the hotel.  He used that for his warm up and did some laps around the park and then did his cool down on the way back.

Unfortunately something did feel right in his ankle for a few days and he stopped the workouts.  Turns out he has a stress fracture!!  Boo.  He gets to wear the boot for a few weeks.  Fingers crossed for a quick recovery.

Wednesday — more history:  Prohibition, First African Baptist Church

A few more historical sites in the city on Wednesday.  First up, was the American Prohibition Museum.  This relatively new museum did a nice job taking us back to the 20s and 30s.  My history of that time-frame is a little weak so I enjoyed the refresher.  There was quite the groundswell to outlaw alcohol and then quite the movement to get it back (particularly after all the unintended consequences!).

Interesting nugget:  at that time (of smaller government), alcohol tax funded up to 50% of the government’s revenue and they had to institute the income tax to offset the loss revenue from prohibition.

Potential extra credit shot for Alex. He’s studying this era so it was good timing for him. The first part of the museum had a lot of the temperance propaganda.
The breweries had to find other things to sell during prohibition.

They had a nice speakeasy bar within the museum (but it was a little early in the day for us).  They also had a nice tie-in with stock car racing and how it started with liquor runners.

Never turn down a nap opportunity

Next up was another interesting historical site, the First African Baptist Church.  See the sign for the basic info.  Amazing that free and enslaved members built the church in their spare time (some after walking miles from their plantations).


outside view
And the inside. It’s a little worn around the edges, but quite a bit of history here (we got a tour with our admission).
The church was part of the underground railroad system for helping slaves escape to the north. These are breathing holes built into the floor for those hiding underneath. (seems rather obvious but maybe not)

Meals for the day:

Lunch:  Goosefeathers (a neat locally owned cafe with fresh food — ate their twice!)

Dinner:  East End Provisions— our nicest family meal out.  Very good and a nice setting.

Thursday — to Tybee Island and back

After spending a few days in the city, we were ready to head out to see some of the nearby sites.  I walked over to the local Enterprise and picked up a car for 2 days.  The weather was starting to warm up finally so it was a good plan on this day at least.

We hit the Bonaventure Cemetery, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Tybee Island Lighthouse and Tybee Beach.

The primary draw of the cemetery (for me) was the azaleas and general scenery.  I’m not too interested in semi-famous headstones.  The cemetery is near the river which also added a nice touch.  It was certainly different to see so much sand and so little green grass.



river shot from the cemetery
in addition to the azaleas, Savannah is also known for its “Spanish Moss”

Next stop was Fort Pulaski.  With all of their storms of late, the facilities in general and the flag pole in particular were in need of repair (and for the flag pole, unsafe).  So, we weren’t able to go inside the fort but that was okay.  We could walk around and go to the visitors’ museum.

Interesting (if a little sad) history:  The US decided to beef up their coastal forts after getting bombarded by the Brits in the war of 1812.  So they came up with a new plan and built forts like Fort Pulaski.  Along comes the civil war and the confederates capture it.  In the meantime, the Union has figured out that canons work a lot better if they are rifled.  They were able to blast them out with the new cannons and retake the fort in 30 hours!


some of the cannon damage is still visiable
another potential extra credit shot for Alex

Next we were off to Tybee and the Lighthouse.  Now, we seen a few lighthouses and this one isn’t particularly unique, but it’s still pretty, historical and has nice views so it was still worthwhile.


a view of the northern portion of the beach (the main pier is about 3 miles to the south)
a view of the grounds
and another of the beach and some fancy houses

Next we headed Tybee Beach.  Coincidentally, there were some friends from Alex’s school staying on Tybee for the week and we were able to hook up with them.

we got some alone time while the “kids” were having fun on their own
checking out the beach (and the kids!)
my wonderful wife — I’m a lucky man

KUK_0454We said our goodbyes and started to head back to Savannah but the traffic was stuck (there’s only one road in/out).  Apparently a fatal hit/run had occurred and the bridge was closed.  After waiting for 1.5 hrs, we turned around and went back to the beach area to grab some food.  Even after that long dinner, the traffic was backed up.  We didn’t get back until late, but at least we got back!

Lunch:  Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp — great little casual joint in Tybee

Dinner:  Lighthouse Pizza — not per plan!  It was fine.  They did a nice job dealing with the crowd and shortage of staff (some of which were stuck on the other side of the bridge!).

Friday — a rainy morning at Pin Point and Alligators!

Unfortunately the weather for our second (and last) day with the car would not be as nice:  rain, rain, rain.  We kept to our plans for the first stop: the Pin Point Heritage Museum.  Which turned out to be a hidden gem and our kind of regional/local place.

Pin Point was a rural settlement founded by freed slaves and is located ~10 miles from Savannah.  It was once a plantation site, carved up and sold to blacks in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Many of the original lots are held by the heirs of the former slaves who bought the parcels more than a century ago.  Pin Point is a small, predominantly African American community that has a well-established group of Gullah (Sea Island Creole) speakers.  The one business in Pin Point — A.S. Varn and Son’s oyster and crab company — shut down in 1985.  It’s buildings now form the Heritage Museum.

Pin Point’s most famous “resident” is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who was born there (but actually spent most of his youth with his grandfather in Savannah).  The area has certainly suffered hard times and the Museum is trying hard to maintain the history and heritage of the area.  We took a drive around after the tour and it was a little depressing for the most part.  Hopefully the community and hold on and pull through.

Interesting, if somewhat dated, article on Judge Thomas’s connection to Pin Point here.

refurbished oyster building on a rainy day
looking out on the river (not sure if this is Moon River” or it is simply close by)
Resident and tour guide Herman Haynes. His grandfather (?) had the first plot/house in the community.
Showing us how the oysters were harvested. Hard work! We also got a crabbing lesson but I didn’t get any photos.
And there’s Judge Thomas. They all had nicknames and his was apparently “Boy”.

We grabbed some nice BBQ at the nearby Sandfly BBQ and were planning to head to Skidaway State Park for a hike but it was still raining and wet.

Though not close, we decided to take advantage of having a car and drove around to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (which is actually on the South Carolina side).  Though there were some trails (no thanks!), the main draw is a 4 mile car loop where you can hopefully see some wildlife.  It was a great game of I-spy for the 3 of us.

Our first gator was this guy camouflaged on the knoll. Pretty exciting!
lots of egrets around as well
small guy on the bank


After seeing 10-12 gators on this cloudy (and non-ideal) day, we finally see this big guy (?) by the road. Kuk was looking out and nearly missed it since she didn’t realize she was so close. Glad to be in the car!!

We drove back to the hotel to drop off Alex then we returned the car.  We managed to try a few samples at the Crystal Beer Parlor on the walk back to the hotel.

For dinner, Kuk and I were in for a treat.  We grabbed Alex some wings for dinner and we headed out to Jazz’d Tapas Bar.  We enjoy sharing small plates and trying different food and we weren’t disappointed.  The extra bonus was live music starting at 9.  That’s a little late for us old folks, but we managed to stay for a set.  It was great to be so close (we lucked out there).

Happy Couple (that still struggles with selfies)
and the band — good times

Saturday — taking in easy on the last day

Our flight back wasn’t until 7pm so we had some time to take in a few last sites.  We had a laid back day for the most part.

I did some on the spot research to see what we might do.  The Webb Military Museum rated high but that’s not really our thing.  We instead opted for the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.   From the website:

The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum is named in honor of the late Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert, the father of Savannah’s modern day Civil Rights Movement and leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Dr. Gilbert served as pastor of historic First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square in Savannah for 16 years. In 1942, he reorganized the Savannah Branch NAACP, served as president for eight years and convened its first state conference. Under his courageous leadership, more than forty NAACP branches were organized in Georgia by 1950.

Basically, the Savannah folks were well organized and effective in their non-violent protests and boycotts.  They were able to get some of the Jim Crow laws repealed ahead of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  I’ve studied a bit on Civil Rights (and watched the great series Eyes on the Prize) and don’t remember hearing much about Savannah.  Well, I guess it is because there were no riots and they were fairly effective!

It was good to walk through the museum and share the experience with Alex.

Department store lunch counter. They had audio for white and black customers so you could hear the difference. They provided the background on just how important the lunch counters were.

The museum was a great find even if I didn’t take a lot of pictures!

We also took a quick stroll through the Telfair Museum since our ticket from earlier in the week was still good.  None of the artwork particularly grabbed me but it was nice to walk through another historic home and see it decorated in period pieces.

view of museum from the outside

Our final activity was to head to the river and ride the free shuttle to the other side where the Westin and Convention Center are located.  It was mainly to see the riverfront from the water and enjoy the nice day.

waitin’ for the boat
looking back down to the bridge
a nice one of Alex and me


and another

So all and all it was a nice relaxing trip filled with some learning, good food and family time.  Looking forward to the next trip when we get Nicole back too!

Thanks for reading.

Back to the UK: Part 2 (July 2017)

After a sad farewell to the Connells and Whitby, we continued our journey north up the coast and then to the Scottish Borders.  See here for Part 1 if you missed it.

map north

Monday, July 10 — Heading North

From Whitby, we set out to Durham where we visited the Cathedral and had a walk around.  We then made a stop at the Washington Old Hall before carrying on to Seahouses for our 1-night B&B stay.

Cathedral view from the courtyard




and from the cloisters
along the riverwalk

After a walk through the small city centre, we set off for Washington Old Hall.  Now, I admit I didn’t research this carefully (enough) and just knew that this National Trust home was “best known for being the ancestral home of George Washington”.  Other than that, I can’t say it stood out much.

Washington’s family came to America a couple of generations before George so he never lived here.  And in fact his lineage was of a different branch that the original estate owners.  Oh well.  We still had a look around before heading on.

A view to the seventeenth-century manor house, Washington Old Hall, Tyne & Wear
Washington Old Hall (credit National Trust)
interior shot inside Washington Old Hall
one of our actual (partial) rainy days

After driving up the coast, we made it to Seahouses and had time for a quick stroll to the harbor.

a view of Bamburgh Castle from the Seahouses harbor

Tuesday, July 11 — towards the Scottish Borders

From our Seahouses base, we visited the nearby Bamburgh Castle before driving up the coast past Eyemouth to St Abbs.  The morning started misty and overcast but fortunately ended with bright blue skies for our outstanding walk.  We then headed east to Melrose, Scottish Borders for our final 3 nights.


First I have to give a shout out for my boy.  As our 2-week long holiday fell during Cross Country summer training, Alex took it upon himself to train EVERY day by following the day-by-day guidelines from his coach before most everyone else woke up.  It was probably 50F and misting this morning in Seahouses and he had a particularly tough workout.  He’s catching his breath here before I go let him in (no, he did not toss his cookies).  Very proud of his persistence and determination.

the view of Bamburgh Castle from the parking lot
rolling dunes and beach from castle
required cannon photo
across the grounds and down the coast
interior shot #1
a look out from inside the castle
a view of the village

Next up was the St Abbs Nature Reserve.  This was slightly out of our way, but I had gotten a good tip (on the internet no less) to try to fit that in.  Fortunately, the weather broke and it was absolutely stunning.

06_st abbs head track
short walk along the coast and nearby fields
06_st abbs head graph
3.6 miles, 1:59 (1:25 moving)–minimal elevation change
cartoon map of the route (we did the yellow and purple)
great early view — the sun is shining too
a look back at the village of St Abbs
a pair of seagulls — quite a lot of sea birds in the area
amazing isn’t it?
another view of the village
I love this shot
the old folks getting in on the action
off they go
looping back inland
lots of bringing up the rear shots in this one (I like those)
some craggily bits
zooming in on some birds below
coming down the lighthouse access road and seeing around the bend
look at all those birds! (razorbills I think)
another from the road shot (I’d hate to drive that one!)
can’t stop taking photos …
heading back (towards the cows)
cows were coming from near and far as we passed — dinner time?
what are you lookin’ at?
even the “inland” way back was nice

After that fine walk we drove an hour or so to Melrose and our self-catering cottage.  Nicole was glad to reconnect with Wi-Fi as she was a couple hours “late” for college registration.  Fortunately she got all her desired classes though she missed one of the preferred professors/time slots.  Reasonable trade for that walk!

view from our cottage outside Melrose

Wednesday, July 12 — Enjoying the Borders

map borders

The Borders are known for their abbeys (Melrose, Jedburgh, Kelso, Dryburgh) among others things.  Plenty of historic homes and estates as well.  We’d get to some of those but with good weather scheduled for the first day and iffy the second, you know we had to get a walk in.  Fortunately, we could set off right out our front door.

07_Eildon Hills track

The Eildon Hills were in our backyard so to speak.   We climbed to the “saddle” between the first two and used that as the launching point for all 3 hills.

07_Eildon Hills

4.9 miles in 2:44 (2:06 moving).  866′ max climb with 1596′ overall.  We did north, mid and then south.

Setting off along St Cuthbert’s Way — north is on the left; mid on the right (south is hidden)
dramatic mix of clouds and blue skies as we start our climb
Melrose town below; heather in the foreground
on North looking at South and Mid
Leaderfoot viaduct over the river Tweed
stunning views
I liked the mixture of sun/shade on this one
zoomed in to see the Melrose Abbey
climbing up the steeper Mid hill
Alex silhouetted in the lead
looks like I have my banner shot; one of my favorites
Mid looking to South
Alex patiently waiting at the “saddle”
the view south
walking back from South

After scarfing some lunch back at the cottage we headed out.  Normally we don’t rush around to see a lot of things but the nice weather beckoned and we set out to see what we could.

Scott’s View

First stop was “Scott’s View”, reputed to be one of the favorite views of Sir Walter Scott (according to the wiki page).  Quite fitting since we just hiked those hills in the morning!

again, slightly zoomed in
and once more with family

A little farther down the road towards Dryburgh is the car park for the William Wallace statue.  After short walk, you see this:

William Wallace statue

We stopped at the Dryburgh Abbey but we couldn’t see much from the outside so we carried on to Jedburgh where there are a number of sites (for free!).

First up was the Mary Queen of Scots House.

Mary Queen of Scots House (from the rear)

Inside the house, where she apparently stayed during her visit to Jedburgh, was a very nicely done museum about her life with just the right amount of information (i.e. Steve/Nicole/Alex level versus Kuk level).

MQofSH from the front

We then walked over to the Abbey (again just to view from the outside).

Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey
and again
dog guarding cat guarding abbey?

Next we slogged up the hill to the castle and jail.  The jail was set up as a museum (with Kuk level of information, i.e. too much).

Jedburgh Castle and Jail

We were still going strong so we then headed to Kelso.

Kelso town square
Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey graveyard

and then we made it back to the cottage:

well deserved rest
with some company

Thursday, July 13 — Borders (last day)

All good things must come to and end — our last full day in the UK.  Since we did a lot of bopping around the previous day, we were able to stick close to home (Melrose) on this last day.

First up was Abbotsford House; home of Sir Walter Scott.  We were all pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the house and tour.  The gardens were also nice.

Abbotsford House
Abbotsford House
and one more (thanks Nicole)

Finally, we made it to Melrose proper.  We drove into town after having tea at the Abbotsford cafe for a quick walk around.  The abbey was the highlight (though we still didn’t pay to go in!).   We did get a little closer than the Eildon Hill view though.

Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey



I mentioned the wonderful garden at Abbotsford.  Here’s a collection of flowers from there and perhaps a few other places along the way.  We (Kuk in particular) loves to stop and see/smell the flowers.




Last, but not least, we have the food photos.  From Seasons we have pigeon breast, chanterelles, lamb shoulder, and salmon linguini.


And from The Hoebridge we have crab toast, stuffed courgette flowers, seared tuna and pork belly.


What a wonderful trip.  We really love the UK and this summer was a great time to visit.  We all were happy and relaxed throughout the two weeks.  Walked about 40 miles on the hikes too.  Can’t wait to come back.

Back to the UK: Part 1 (July 2017)

Greetings Blog Fans.  We’ve just made it back from a wonderful two weeks in England and Scotland.  Notionally this was a graduation trip for Nicole but we were all eager to return to visit friends and see places old and new.  It’s hard to believe it has been 3.5 years since we’ve moved back to the States.

map overall trip

Our trip involved 3 main phases with some additional stops along the way:

  • 3 nights near Derby (the “ttingham” house above) staying with our great friends, the Connells
  • 7 nights in Whitby, Yorkshire also with the Connells
  • 3 nights in the Scottish Borders (Melrose) with a stop in Seahouses, Northumberland along the way

I’ll cover the first 10 nights here and will do a second post for the trip north on our own.  This was a relaxing trip for reconnecting with friends and the beautiful countryside we have so missed.  We visited a few sites along the way but that wasn’t the primary purpose.

June 30 – July 1 (Fri / Sat) — Derby

Arrival day was about survival.  The overnight flight is always rough though fortunately I did get some sleep.   Flight and passport control delays pushed things back a bit but the worst was the drive.  The normal 2.5 hour drive took 5.5 hours (didn’t miss the traffic) as we finally made it to the Connells outside of Derby.  Ugh.  Apparently I looked like death warmed over.  Oh well; we made it!


Nicole lucked out in that her former school, Derby High, was having their prom that night.  She quickly got ready and joined Annabel to reunite with former classmates.  Not sure how she did it as I crashed hard!


As I awoke from my slumber early the next morning, this was my view out of the Connell’s house.  I’ve written about their “ideal British home” before but how can you beat sheep, stone walls, and a valley view out of your kitchen window.  This is what I missed!

The kids were left to their own devices, while we did another quintessentially British activity:  walking.  We just headed out their back garden and up the foot path to the countryside.  It was a short stroll of a few miles through fields and forests and was just what the doctor ordered.

That afternoon, we joined our former neighbors, the Clevelys, for tea.  It was good to catch up and see everyone.  The adults look the same (at least they do!) and the kids have of course shot up.

scrumptious cakes whipped up by Jo
Tom and Jo
Kaleb M., Leo C., Max C., Evan M. and Alex back in the ‘hood

Sunday, July 2 — Derbyshire

With one day left and cooperative weather, we set out to do a hike/walk in the Peak District.  Now that’s something I’m familiar with!  It was tough to choose which one to do but ultimately we ended up combining two previous walks near Castleton / Mam Tor which is about an hour away.


My GPS map highlights all the walks we’ve done in the area (one of our favorite spots).  The two specific previous walks were Cavedale (blue) and Mam Tor (green) in the lower center section above.


We combined the outer portions for a nice 8 mile hike (red track above).  The cyan squiggle above is from the previous walk when I knew we weren’t quite on the trail.  Derek’s digital OS map kept us straight this time!


The longer climb is actually up Cavedale with the peak at Mam Tor.  There were a series of smaller climbs after that before we walked back down into town.  Stats:  8.0 miles in 4:26 (3:29 moving).  1125′ min to max climb with a 1914′ overall climb.  And now to the photos:

the crew sets off on a gloriously sunny day
the Cave Dale climb
yay, sheep!
dramatic sky during the flat walk across to Mam Tor
Mam Tor in the distance — our next stop
the reward at the top
bracing against the fierce wind
Kuk and a nice backdrop
more great views


I tried to take this shot above near where I took one of my favorites (from 2012) below:

2012 — Mam Tor rainbow



I really love the walks that get up on the hills and look into the valleys below.  This walk was perfect.  And much better than the last time we all tried it:

2012 — Mam Tor (in the rain)

While we were enjoying a glorious walk, Nicole took advantage of the last opportunity to see some of her other close friends: Phoebe (w/ Annabel) and Abbie.  Good times — good luck at “uni” (college) girls!

Monday, July 3 — Whitby via Ripon

While the Connells got their house in order, we set off to Whitby with a slight detour to Ripon to see Fountains Abbey.  We visited York in 2011 on our first holiday during our secondment (3 year work assignment) and saw the Yorkshire Sculpture Garden on a previous day out as well.  Other than that, we’ve not spent much time in Yorkshire so we had a lot of choices for the drive up.  We settled on Fountains Abbey.  Ironically we let that entrance cover for all the other abbeys we would see but not enter the rest of the trip.  [We used to have both National Trust and English Heritage passes — now we are frugal visitors.]

From the National Trust website:

The dramatic Abbey ruins at Fountains are the largest monastic ruins in the country. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle.

Within three years the little settlement at Fountains had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order and with that came an important development – the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers.

The lay brothers (think labourer) relieved the monks from routine jobs, giving them more time to dedicate to God. It was because of the lay brothers that Fountains became so wealthy through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying.

In the 14th-century the monks had to cope with bad harvests and raids from the Scots which led to economic collapse. This was only made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348.

Despite its financial problems, the Abbey remained important. The abbacy of Marmaduke Huby (1495 – 1526) marked a period of revival and the great tower built by Huby symbolises his hope for the Abbey’s future.

The Abbey was abruptly closed down in 1539 in the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and the abbot, prior and monks were sent away with pensions.

And with that we were off to the Abbey (and the tour that awaited us).  We couldn’t pass up the playground along the way however as it reminded us of another photo.

Aww — 6 years earlier in Ireland
2017 — a little bigger now (same green jacket though! I guess we can get you a new one)
the tour gathers — we definitely brought the average age down






looking back as we head to the Studley Royal Water Garden



Chorister’s House
St Mary’s Church

Tuesday, July 4th — Whitby

Well, it’s not our first 4th of July in the UK.  Can’t say we were even phased by it though the weather was certainly cooler than we were used to (about 15C / 60F if I recall).

We arrived in Whitby, our base for the week, the previous afternoon.  Andrea found a gem of a place for our two families to stay.  Living the high/posh life for the week.  Though perhaps not a geographically ideal place for a Yorkshire base, it was more than adequate (and quite luxurious actually).

Whitby is a seaside tourist destination and fishing town of about 13,000 people.

yorkshire google map

I had mapped out some options for the week ahead of time but knew we would be flexible about our plans due to weather and group interest.  We figured a day for Whitby, 2-3 walks, Robin Hoods Bay and other area activities to fill in the rest.  These are somewhat marked on the map above (or as linked here).  [The black symbols were options that we chose not to visit in the end.]

For our first day we simply got our bearings and checked out the sights that Whitby had to offer.

close up of the full crew at the classic  whalebone arch (similar to headliner up top)
abbey from the west cliff
looking back towards the lighthouse and piers
down the pavilion and the colorful cabanas — Alex would get quite familiar with the stretch as he chose to do his training here on most days.  He was up at 7 to keep up with his cross-country training schedule.  Andrea joined him most days in Whitby (thanks!).  Very proud of that boy.
having fun
having fun round 2
up on the hill/cliff looking back
our speedy slug has followed us here (so many slugs and snails ….)
abbey from the pier
up the 199 steps we go
looking back down towards town
the girls striking a pose with the abbey in the background (we opted not to pay to enter)

We would see bluer skies later in the week.  In fact, just the day before was quite different.  While we were traipsing around Fountains Abbey, Annabel got some nice, bright shots from similar vantage points:




Those look painted in comparison!

Wednesday, July 5th — Robins Hood Bay

The weather forecast for the day was overcast but mostly dry so we decided to set out on our first Yorkshire walk from Whitby to Robins Hood Bay along the Cleveland Way coastal path.


Robins Hood bay is the next village to south (east).  Though originally a fishing village it’s primarily a tourist village now.  It makes for a nice (classic) coastal walk.


Relatively flat once outside of Whitby and the 199 steps though there were a few ups and downs.  Stats:  7.4 miles in 3:45 (3:11 moving).  A min-to-max climb of 381′ with total climbs of 1338′.  We were quite tired by the end.  After enjoying a tea and walk around the village we took the bus back to Whitby (£4.30 each — well worth it!).

a nice welcome near the start of the walk — actually we appreciate all clarifications when it comes to staying on the approved footpaths
the abbey from farther away along the walk
nice group shot along the coast
classic from the rear shot
yay, sheep here too
looking back along the coast
ahead to the slight uphill grade
another coastal shot
A friendly pooch we met headed towards Whitby. The older couple initially scoffed at our plans to take the bus back but we saw them back in Robins Hood Bay after deciding it wasn’t such a bad idea after all!
a curious cow
very curious (notice I waited to get on the good side of the fence being the city slicker that I am)
and finally looking ahead to Robins Hood Bay

Thursday, July 6 — Museum of Victorian Science

Given all that walking, we were due for a low key, low activity day.  In doing my research I came across the Museum of Victorian Science which sounded like our kind of place if we could fit it in.  It did sound a bit quirky and unique but the reviews were great.  I asked Andrea to try to make a booking for us which was a bit more of an ordeal than she probably imagined.  It turns out they can take no more than 4 at a time so the Connells gratuitously let us have the slots (though it probably wasn’t much of a sacrifice!).  While they enjoyed another day strolling in Whitby, we set off for the back roads to find this place.

As it turns out, it is run by a nice old chap who turned his collection into a museum since his wife wanted it out of the house!  All of the items were shoehorned into an attached shed.  I know why the limit was 4 because another person could not have fit (though I did think Andrea might have been making that bit up ;-).  For 2 hours, Tony took us through many of the items and demonstrated them along the way.  We even had a lovely tea break with both he and his wife in their kitchen midway through.  What a wonderful and unique experience, especially for this science-y family.





Friday, July 7 — Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey

Time for another walk!  The girls requested a day in town to themselves so the 5 of us tackled this one.  In trying to decide which walks to do I kinda took the easy way out.  The North York Moors National Park has a list of 6 classic walks so that was a good place to start.  They also had descriptions of each, including this one.

This walk starts in the quaint market town of Helmsley and heads out along the Cleveland Way (restarted in Helmsley) until the ruined Rievaulx Abbey is reached.  You then walk up along the “terrace” and back through some farm land to complete the somewhat circular (“lollipop”) walk.