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.

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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.

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Cathedral view from the courtyard

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and from the cloisters
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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)
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interior shot inside Washington Old Hall
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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.

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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.

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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.

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the view of Bamburgh Castle from the parking lot
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rolling dunes and beach from castle
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required cannon photo
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across the grounds and down the coast
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interior shot #1
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#2
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a look out from inside the castle
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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.

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

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view from our cottage outside Melrose

Wednesday, July 12 — Enjoying the Borders

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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again, slightly zoomed in
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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:

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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.

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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).

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MQofSH from the front

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

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Jedburgh Abbey
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Jedburgh Abbey
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and again
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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).

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Jedburgh Castle and Jail

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

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Kelso town square
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Kelso Abbey
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Kelso Abbey graveyard

and then we made it back to the cottage:

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well deserved rest
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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.

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Abbotsford House
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Abbotsford House
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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.

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Melrose Abbey
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Melrose Abbey

 

Flowers

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.

 

 

Food

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.

Summary

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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scrumptious cakes whipped up by Jo
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Tom and Jo
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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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

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

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2012 — Mam Tor rainbow

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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:

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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.

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

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looking back as we head to the Studley Royal Water Garden

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Chorister’s House
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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.

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close up of the full crew at the classic  whalebone arch (similar to headliner up top)
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abbey from the west cliff
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looking back towards the lighthouse and piers
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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.
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having fun
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having fun round 2
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up on the hill/cliff looking back
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our speedy slug has followed us here (so many slugs and snails ….)
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abbey from the pier
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up the 199 steps we go
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looking back down towards town
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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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a nice welcome near the start of the walk — actually we appreciate all clarifications when it comes to staying on the approved footpaths
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the abbey from farther away along the walk
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nice group shot along the coast
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classic from the rear shot
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yay, sheep here too
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looking back along the coast
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ahead to the slight uphill grade
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another coastal shot
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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!
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a curious cow
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very curious (notice I waited to get on the good side of the fence being the city slicker that I am)
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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.

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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.

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route taken (cyan)–we did not enter the terrace as shown in magenta
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relatively flat walk (note scale)

Stats:  7.0 miles in 3:43 (3:08 moving).  433′ max climb and 1316′ overall.

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looking back at the castle in Helmsley
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Rievaulx Abbey from a distance
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closer
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nice group shot with the abbey in the background
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one last angle
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my feeble attempt and trying to capture the wheat blowing in the wind–too low
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Alex and Andrea having a deep discussion–probably about their running schedule
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I was impressed by Helmsley but I didn’t get a picture of market square. This will have to do.

Another nice walk (and great company!).  Not as many commanding views but the abbey was surprisingly impressive and really neat to just walk by and see it out of nowhere.

Saturday, July 8 — Roseberry Topping walk

Saturday’s weather was predicted to be nice so we saved the “commanding view” walk for then.  This was my number one pick of the 6 classic walks based on my preferences so it was a good fit.  The Connells opted to do their own thing so it was just the Freys (like old times) on this day.

The Roseberry Topping website states:

An ascent of the ‘Yorkshire Matterhorn’, plus a reminder or two of the great navigator and explorer Captain Cook – just some of the delights of this classic 7-mile circular walk through dappled woodlands and across heather moorland.

Sounds good to me!

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The walk starts from Great Ayton, continues through the village and some fields until the climb to Roseberry Topping.  There’s a down and up to Little Roseberry and then a walk through the moors to another ascent to the Cook monument before finally ending up back in Great Ayton.

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Some good climbs (and views) in this one.  Stats:  8.0 miles in 4:20 (3.28 moving).  806′ max climb with 1919′ overall.

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traditional setting off photo–lovely blue skies (you don’t take those for granted here)
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skirting the woods along to Roseberry Topping; Nicole’s high stepping apparently
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an early view partially the way up-aaahhh
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higher vantage point looking back
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now looking out — notice the sea view from a distance
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peace and serenity at the top? Not so much. Just a colony of beaver (cub) scouts. Those leaders had their hands full, especially with poor Hammish. He’s lucky he made it back in one piece.
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back towards Great Ayton (I think)
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enjoying a rest (and lunch)
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another nice view
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family shot
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hey, all four of this time
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selfie!
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heading down Roseberry Topping on the other side (to Little Roseberry)
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looking back
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and again from farther away
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skirting the Moors
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one last look back
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Captain Cook’s monument in the distance (our destination)
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and the reward back at the house

Another great day and a great walk.  This one was on par with the Castleton walk for good views.

Sunday, July 10 — Whitby area roundup (Falling Foss, etc.)

Our last day in Whitby and with the Connells.  It’s been a great week all around.  Rather than tackle another big walk, we thought we’d hit a few nearby sites and chill out.  We considered taking the steam train but decided the expense wasn’t worth it.  We thought we’d check out one of the famous stations (Goathland, aka Hogsmeade station in Harry Potter).  Before doing that we decided to do a short walk around Falling Foss Tea Garden and Waterfalls.

This short stroll is described here as a “magical woodland walk”.  We parked by the tea garden so did the stream (east) side first.  I much preferred that to the more dense ferns and woodlands and would suggest simply doubling back.

Stats:  2.0 miles in 1:15 (1:05 moving).  206′ max climb (554′ overall)

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a view of the falls
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the calming and pleasant river walk
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battling the ferns (the deep forest shots later didn’t turn out)

We enjoyed some tea and scones at the tea gardens while we recharged.  And now on to Goathland, a shortish drive away (through some nasty backroads though — thanks Sat Nav / GPS).

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Goathland Station
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close up of the bridge
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with Frey kids
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waiting for the train (not really)

Food!

Since we love our food so much I couldn’t leave without a few comments.  On arrival we ate at a sit-down “chippie” (Trenchers — nothing special (to me) but they could take 7!) and the adults later ate at a new restaurant called Star Inn The Harbour which was quite nice though going through some early growing pains.  We ate in the rest of the time (with yours truly cooking most of the meals).  We bought two rounds of seafood to try at home as part of that (no photos — dang).  Monkfish and mussels the first time and cod, mussels and samphire the second.

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Seafood pie (this rookie didn’t realize that meant all those mashed potatoes) — not a fried fish and chips guy though

The following are from the Star Inn The Harbour:

Rockpool (yum), halibut, dressed crab, red mullet

Summary:

What a great 10 days.  It really ticked all the boxes and it was wonderful to spent so much time with such great friends.  Seeing all the wonderful countryside was a bonus.  It’s a shame we are divided by an ocean.  Okay, Connells, be thinking where you want to visit in the States and we’ll work on our next trip over there!

The trips continues for 4 more nights through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.  I’ll pick that up in the next post.

Tucson (Mar 2017)

Greetings Blog Fans.  We’ve just returned from Spring Break in sunny Arizona and as usual, I’m documenting it here.

arizona map

For this trip we’d thought we would give Tucson a try.  We’ve been to Sedona twice and the Grand Canyon and Page once so why not head south?  Tucson is about 2 hours southeast of Phoenix (which is another 2 hours from Sedona).   Logistics and pricing had us flying into Tucson and out of Phoenix.

tucson mapMy grand plans hit a slight speed bump as our flight out on Friday was severely delayed (we actually de-planed in Indy).  We rebooked for Saturday morning/afternoon and ending up losing a half day (bye-bye Pima Air & Space Museum).  Due to some commitments on the back end, that left us with 5 nights and 4 full days of activities.  We spent most of our time hiking (surprise, surprise).

Tucson is very spread out so there isn’t really a central location.  We chose to stay in the Catalina Foothills in a great VRBO.  It was a bit of a splurge but we did enjoy the extra space.

Our itinerary corresponding to the map above:

Day 0:  (arrival day) Mission San Xavier del Bac

Day 1:  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum & Saguaro National Park (West)

Day 2:  Saguaro National Park (East)

Day 3:  Sabino Canyon

Day 4:  Ventana Canyon & Catalina State Park

Saturday:  Mission San Xavier del Bac

From the website:

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.
The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.
The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.
It’s required some very intensive restoration work over the years.  Glad we got to see it.  Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective), we were too late for the guided tours so we just had a bit of a walk around ourselves.
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the view walking in from the parking lot
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an interior shot (we’ve seen a lot of churches so it’s hard to get too excited I’m afraid)
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interior courtyard
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better side view with a little elevation
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Alex was the only one willing to scramble to the top

Sunday (Day 1):  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

For the first full day, we headed to the west side for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Being early risers plus operating on east coast time allowed for an early start.  The museum is essentially a desert-themed zoo.  It was a bit pricey for 4 of us, but worthwhile nonetheless.  A sample of the photos are below.

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the walking path weaves between some natural scenery

 

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inside for this creepy guy — fortunately didn’t see this one in the wild
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mountain lion chilling in the shade
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bear trying to find the hidden food (not the best shot) — bigger than I was expecting
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feeding time (dead and thawing rodent)
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working it — we lost interest after awhile however
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flowers are always a big hit, especially in the contrasting desert
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we particularly enjoyed this cactus garden
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mountain goat
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and a very young one
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hard to tell but that’s a baby hummingbird

Sunday (Day 1):  Saguaro National Park (West)

Two sites in one day.  How about that!  For the afternoon we stopped at the Saguaro National Park since we were close by (per the plan!).  As you might have gathered, there are 2 districts for the national park (separated by about an hour’s drive) which both protect portions of the Sonoran desert.  The west side encompasses some of the Tucson Mountains.

Saguaro (suh-whar-o) is the type of traditional-looking cactus that the region is famous for.

We stopped at the visitor’s center to get recommendations and decided on the hike to Wasson’s Peak via the Esperanza trail.  This allowed us to take in the Bajada Scenic Loop (and then some).

1-Saguaro West map
out and back hike up to the peak–Esperanza trail to the Hugh Norris Trail
2-Wassons Peak
just under 8 miles with a 1700′ in 4:12 (3:30 moving)–nice one!
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that could be our destination — I just liked the view
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as I said, flowers are a hit
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we liked this unique (to us) fuzzy, stick cactus
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this yellow flowering bush was fairly common
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the views back after a little climb
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my favorite teens
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near the final climb
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almost there
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waiting for us as usual
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my crew at the top
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Look, I made it too!
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rattlesnake round 2 (see below)

We had a little bit of extra excitement on this hike.  On the way up, with the kids slightly ahead of us, Nicole startled herself and a rattlesnake.  Only the kids saw it, but we all heard it.  It was loud!  Fortunately it sought refuge under the bush while we scrambled over the rocks to get by.  Needless to say, Nicole was a little shaken up (oh, but what a story!).

Oh the way back, she was on the lookout in the same area and saw it again (that’s it slithering away in the photo).  Both were ready this time so no rattle.

Monday (Day 2):  Saguaro National Park (East)

Day 2 — off to the east side to the Rincon Mountain version of Saguaro National Park and another hike.  We lazed around a bit to time the opening of the visitor’s center (9 am) and see what hikes were recommended.

The east side has more interconnected trails which allows you to make things up as you go.  The signage was very good as was the map.

1-Saguaro East Map
we did the scenic loop here as well — the trailhead was up top (Loma Verde)
2-Saguaro East Map2
this map was a little more detailed (we went clockwise)
3-Saguaro East
we stayed fairly level for the first 3 miles and then got a little climb in for a better view–7.6 miles (450′) in 3:50 (3:06 moving)
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good size saguaro at the beginning of the hike

 

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short and sweet flowering cactus

 

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how’s that for scale?
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quintessential view (minus the slight clouds)
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mountains off in the distance (north I think)
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This is my poor attempt to capture the gila monster that Alex almost ran into (they each scampered in opposite directions).  I did see him but didn’t get him in the photo.
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kinda looked like this (trust me)
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another nice view
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I like this one–nice shot guys!
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the usual view for Kuk and me

I really enjoyed the varying landscape, greenery and views on the east side.  Most of the rest of the crew preferred the west side hike to the peak though.

Tuesday (Day 3):  Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson and was our hiking destination for day 3.  There’s a tram to take folks into the canyon and there are numerous trail options.

We eschewed the tram (and the $40 cost) and hiked up Blackett’s Ridge while taking in the Phone Line link connector to make a “lollipop” loop coming back.  More rocks and “big steps” involved in the climb which slowed down the vertically challenged among us (i.e. Kuk).

1-Sabino Canyon map
you’ll have to settle for my GPS map for this one
2-Sabino Canyon Blacketts Ridge
this was a healthy climb (1750′) for an overall hike of again, just under 8 miles (5:03/3:48)
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plenty of energy early in the morning!
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great views even before the climb
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looking back across town
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kicked out the mountain lion for the nice, cool perch
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lots of saguaros poking up
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first of many nice shots with my #1

 

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and another
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starting to change the vantage point as we climb
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looking down the canyon (where the tram goes)
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family shot with an ominous sky–taken by a family from Plainfield who also made the climb!
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another nice family shot

 

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solo Nicole
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one more with Kuk (who is surprisingly still happy!)
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the view back down trail
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these guys were waiting for a stumble
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semi-artsy shot
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more saguaro on the hillside (in the dark — sorry)
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meep-meep (road runner)

Nice rewarding hike though certainly a little tougher.  It was slow going during some parts of the climb but we were all glad we made it.

Wednesday (Day 4):  Ventana Canyon

Last day.  We had ambitions of potentially doing two 5-milers but given this was the 4th day in a row that wasn’t likely.  The first stop was in Ventana Canyon off the backside of the swanky Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.  The in/out trail goes quite a ways out and up but we just took it to the Maiden Pools.

The trail was very rocky and was hard on the feet even with hiking boots.  It had a much more overgrown feel and lots of bees a buzzin on the way back.  Probably our least favorite of the 4 big hikes.

1-Ventana Canyon
just over 5 miles in 4:02 (3:24 moving) with 1300′
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look at those saguaros and blue skies!
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saguaros peppering the hillside
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cactus skeleton — pretty cool
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looking back down the canyon after a partial climb
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farther up
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chilling on the rocks by the pools (no pictures of the pools as there were lots of folks about)

Wednesday (Day 4):  Catalina State Park

The stretch goal was to make it to Catalina State Park and perhaps do another medium hike to the Romero Pools.  We weren’t feeling it.  So, we had a quick drive into the park and walked one of the short loops (the Nature Trail).  We’ll have to come back another time.

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had some big-ins here
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Pima County Sheriff’s office (no time to chat them up Tim!)
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great big saguaro (same as on their postcard)

Bits and Bobs

We also had the great pleasure of meeting up with some old friends who winter here.  Thanks for dinner Dave & Jan–it was great to see you!  It would be easier to meet in Indy though — we’ll have to do that too.  🙂

Dave gave me a nice tip about the International Space Station.  We were able to see a 4-minute pass on Tuesday in the clear night skies.  Very cool!

The weather was great (70s during the day down to 50 at night).  Summers would take some getting used to though.

We enjoyed El Minuto Cafe for some classic Sonoran food.  Glad I got to try the local specialty carne seca.  We flew out of Phoenix so I was able to take the family to one of my favorite places (Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe) for lunch.

And finally, it’s hard to write this blog without thinking of my biggest fan.  I always imagine myself talking to my mother when I write these as she always enjoyed them so.  I started the UK blog (and continued with this one) as a way to communicate back to her and the rest of the family and will always imagine her reaction and comments even though she’s no longer with us.  Love you Mom.

Summary

We enjoyed our trip and could have used a few more days.  We certainly left plenty for another trip or two.  Our inclination is to want to compare this to Sedona but it’s really apples/oranges.  Sedona definitely has more of the wow factor for us.  In terms of future retirement options, more research is required!  🙂

Hike rankings:

Kids:  Blackett’s Ridge, Wasson’s Peak, SNP East, Ventana Canyon

Kuk:  Wasson’s Peak, SNP East, Blackett’s Ridge, Ventana Canyon

Steve:  SNP East, Blackett’s Ridge, Wasson’s Peak, Ventana Canyon

Enjoy — see you next time (back to the UK in July).  We’ll have a high school graduate by then!

Sedona (Nov 2016)

Greetings Blog Fans!  This is our third Thanksgiving since returning from the UK and we continued the tradition of heading west and enjoying the outdoors for the full week.  This year we returned to Sedona where we also visited in 2014.  (Last year was Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns).

Sedona is absolutely beautiful and a serious contender for a retirement landing spot depending on where the kids end up.  We’ve got a while to consider that.  For now, we are enjoying the research!

I’ll try not to babble on too much as the pictures do most of the talking.  As with last time, hiking was the focal point.  We had some repeats as well as some new hikes.  We also took a couple of days to visit a handful of National Monuments in the area.

Saturday (11/19)–National Monuments

We had an early (really early) flight that gave us most of the day for sites.  We decided to visit 3 Native American National Monuments on the way to Sedona:

Each involved a short, paved walk with info boards along with the main attraction.  Interesting factoid:  the Montezuma sites had nothing to do with the Aztec ruler; they were just misnamed by the explorers that “discovered” them.  All date back ~800 years.

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Montezuma’s Castle
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Montezuma’s Well (odd site in the desert for sure)
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a top the Tuzigoot settlement
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looking down at the various Tuzigoot rooms/settlements

 

Sunday (11/20)–Mescal/Long Canyon + Fay Canyon

Our first full day and one dedicated to hiking.  We didn’t want to jump to the biggest hike of the week straight away so we thought we’d do a semi-repeat 5 miler and a new 2 miles to work up to it.

sedona-2

The map above is of the Sedona area (the “Y”) from my GPS map.  The pink trails are from 2014 and the light blue trails are from this year.  We had 4 days of hiking.  Sunday was obviously day one and we did the 1A and 1B hikes.  We had done the Mescal trail last time but this time we continued on to Deadman’s Pass and finished the loop with the Long Canyon trail.  (4.9 miles in 2:25).

The second hike was a short in/out hike into Fay Canyon (2.1 miles in 1:03).

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Obligatory photo at start of Mescal Trail
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kids are always out front as the parents are now too slow
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taking the low road–amazingly people actually bike this trail
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a rare cloudy day (the rain would come the following day)
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a repeat photo op from 2014

 

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2014 version
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heading into Fay Canyon
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typical view as we walk among the red rocks

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Monday (11/21)–Rainout

It rained most of the day (as predicted).  We puttered about some shops and then went to see Dr. Strange (the movie).  One rainy day isn’t too bad.   Besides, I doubled up on some hikes later in the week.  🙂

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Tuesday (11/22)–HiLine Loop around Cathedral Rock

Big day as we attempt our longest hike of the week and a new one at that.  This involves a big loop around Cathedral Rock (Trail #2 on my map above).  We started at Yavapai Point and worked our way to the HiLine Trail.  We continued on the Baldwin Trail, around to Templeton, and then back down Slim Shady to complete the loop.  We also took small spurs to Red Rock Crossing and partially up Cathedral Rock.

This was our favorite of the week and tops our Sedona list.  The views were spectacular and the early climb was greatly rewarded.

hiline

10.1 miles in total in ~6 hours (4:38 moving).  Proud to say we were all in good spirits at the end too!  Looks like we’ve successfully pushed the comfort boundary.

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pre-hike shot — typical early morning (8 am) start
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early morning shadows as we start our ascent
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great views north back to Sedona
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Kuk liked the multi-colored branches
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higher still — looking out over the forest

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red rocks, green trees/bushes and blue skies — the colors of Sedona

 

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a truly happy bunch!
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first view of Cathedral Rock once we rounded the corner

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moon shot — you can just barely see it
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Cathedral Rock
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Cathedral Rock + Sedona
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back towards the Village of Oak Creek
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another of Cathedral Rock as we move around

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nice shot, albeit looking into the sun
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family shot — I had hoped to get Cathedral Rock in view but my instructions weren’t clear
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and one more — this time of the happy couple
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ahhh . . .
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heading down and around now

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finally made it to Red Rock Crossing (though there was probably a better spot)
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Cathedral Rock from the other side
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onwards!

 

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this hike has it all!

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the 3 of us sans Kuk climbed part way up Cathedral Rock; decided not to go all the way
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on Cathedral Rock
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Courthouse Rock as we walk back towards the trailhead
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one more of Cathedral Rock

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Wednesday (11/23)–Wupatki & Sunset Crater NMs

Given the big hike yesterday, I thought we could have a day of (some) rest and head north on a road trip to Flagstaff.  We didn’t actually spend much time in Flagstaff, however, as we were really after a few more national monuments.  I had grand plans for 3 NMs and the Museum of Northern Arizona.  In the end we were cultured out and decided to just visit 2 and then drove back to see a movie.  (Fantastic Beasts).  See, I’m flexible!  🙂

The two sites were Wupatki and Sunset Crater.  (Walnut Canyon didn’t make the cut).  Wupatki is another ~800 year old Native American site (out in the middle of nowhere).  Sunset Crater was more about the extinct volcanoes in the area.

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Wupatki–and that was about the extent of our collective attention spans unfortunately
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a view of the San Francisco mountain peaks from Sunset Crater
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looks like overturned soil but its actually dried lava
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lava + forest + snow peaked mountain
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more lava
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and standing in the (dried) lava
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another at Sunset Crater
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and another
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Check out this guy — not sure how Kuk spotted it.  I had this video in mind when taking the photo though.

Thursday (11/24)–Bell Rock/Courthouse Loop + Broken Arrow

Thanksgiving!  Naturally, we were going to do a hike (or two).  Since we had the rainout on Monday I had us squeeze in both the Bell Rock/Courthouse Rock loop (4.4 miles in 1:57, Trail 3A on map) and the Broken Arrow/Submarine Rock hike (3.9 miles in 2:27 with lunch, trail 3B).

After 3 years we’ve fine-tuned our new Thanksgiving experience.  Back in 2014 we hiked and then went out to a restaurant which we gave mixed reviews.  Last year, we assumed we’d do something similar but found out nothing was open in Carlsbad except for Walmart and Sonic (yuck).  This year, we planned ahead a bit and ordered a pre-cooked turkey and sides from a local grocery store.  We actually had round 1 on Tuesday and round 2 on Thursday.  We had enough for sandwiches for 2 days as well.  So, for Thanksgiving lunch, we had a turkey sandwich on Submarine Rock.  Cool!

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Bell Rock from the parking lot trailhead
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and another with my wonderful daughter
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Bell and Courthouse — our trail was a very nice loop around both
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early on before turning to the right to loop around counterclockwise
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ahhh . . .
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the kids hung out together most of the time (again waiting for us slow folks)

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quintessential Sedona
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still smiling and its towards the end of the week!

 

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Courthouse from the back side
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hey, there’s Cathedral Rock again (from the east side of the road this time)
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dog attack!
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likely Christmas card (we nabbed the dog owner to get our photo!)

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starting out on Broken Arrow (after moving the car to the trailhead)

 

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another Christmas card option (I was more aggressive about getting our photo taken)

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We actually missed our intended Broken Arrow route and ended up on the Twin Buttes and High on the Hog trails.  It worked out well as we were able to get to a higher vantage point.
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see what I mean?
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can’t get enough of this
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lonely kids on Submarine Rock
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trying the selfie thing — still needs practice

Friday (11/25)–Brins Mesa/Soldier Pass

Last fun day in Sedona.  We took it relatively easy with “only” a 5 miles hike.  We started at the Soldier Pass trailhead, walked over to the Brins Mesa trail head, up Brins Mesa and back down Soldier Pass (5.4 miles in 2:52, trail 4).  This was a repeat from last year although we did it in reverse.  This was the only one that felt like a significant climb and some might say the view/effort ratio was a little low compared to others.

 

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setting off
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red/blue/green — everywhere you go
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not a bad view as we start our climb

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one lone pine cone hanging on (a rare artsy shot for me)
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post climb, up on the mesa

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here’s that climb for reference — not a big deal but it felt like one!

 

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Sunset on our last night — from Upper Red Rock Loop Road looking back at Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Rock (we drove back out later in the afternoon)

Miscellaneous

I planned ahead a little better for this trip.  For both this one and in 2014, we used our timeshare exchange for a place to stay (Sedona is a good option for that).  Last time, I left it a little late and had to split our stay at two resorts.  This time, I got a full week at the Sedona Springs resort and we got a spacious 2-bedroom which worked out really well.  We ate in most nights by choice and had ample space to stretch out (and separate).  The only downside was that we were in a bit of a wi-fi deadspot.  Fortunately, the lobby was close by.  That’s where the kids would hang out after the walks and before dinner.  A typical pose is below:

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gotta stay connected ya know

Summary

We all truly enjoyed our stay in Sedona.  I was surprised how much the kids liked it.  Nicole was particularly happy with it and I can see us coming back in 2 years when it’s time to use the timeshare exchange again.

South Dakota (June 2016)

Well, I’ve not done a very good job of retro-blogging past trips.  The least I can do is keep up with the current ones.  We just got back from a great trip west to the Black Hills area of South Dakota.  Not only was it our first time to the area (well, except for Kuk) but it was our first extensive road trip out west.  The trip was inspired by a Badlands photograph that Nicole saw in our National Parks calendar.

We spent a night in Sioux Falls, SD; 5 in Custer, SD; one in Wall, SD (Badlands) and another in Sioux Falls on the way home.  I didn’t track the mileage but it was a lot!

us map.2

First day was a slog to Sioux Falls (comfort breaks only).  A truly boring drive across the Heartland, but we made it to South Dakota.

south dakota map.2

Day 2 simply had us traversing the plains of South Dakota.  We took time visit Sioux Falls and to stop in Mitchell for the Corn Palace, Chamberlain for the Lewis and Clark info center and Wall for the touristy Wall Drug.  Our only Rapid City stop was to stock up on food for the week at Walmart.  We then rolled into Custer; our home for 5 nights.

black hills map

This is a better view of the Black Hills and Badlands in the western part of the state.  You can also see Devil’s Tower (Wyoming) in the upper left.  Our cabin is the star to the east of Custer.  Mount Rushmore is near Keystone.  The Badlands are a couple hours to the east so we moved “camp” for that.

Nothing to mention on day 1, so we’ll put on our tourist hats for

Day 2:  Driving west across South Dakota

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Before setting off, we decided to take in Falls Park in Sioux Falls.  It was quite pleasant and certainly worth a stop.  Glad we got there early before it got too hot.  The first few days of our trip were in the 90’s.

DSCN3340I was able to sneak into a few pictures this trip.

DSCN3342A slightly different perspective

DSCN3348Nice view from the tower (no charge to go to the top!)

DSCN3351Next stop was the “World’s Only” Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.   It’s your typical touristy road-side attraction and worth the price of admission (free).   From the 1880’s to the 1930’s, at least 34 “prairie palaces” sprang up in 24 Midwest towns.   Entrepreneurs pummeled the newspapers with exaggerated claims of life in the prairie.  Only one remains.  It actually a multi-purpose gym with corn art inside and out.

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Here’s a closer view of one of the murals.  Those are full ears of dried corn (rather than individual corn kernels).

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A few shots above to keep with the corny theme

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Next stop was a rest area near Chamberlain (and the Missouri River).  Nice views like the one above and a nice mini-museum on Lewis and Clark who stayed a few nights at this location (unfortunately for them, before the rest area was established).

DSCN3365We had some time, so we also stopped at Wall Drug.  There are signs all throughout the state leading one here.  It’s over the top and way too crowded for us but many must like it (2 million annual visitors according to the linked wiki article).

DSCN3366After 2 days on the road, we made it to “our” cabin in the hills outside of Custer.  It proved to be a good base though a touch small for our family (we’ve had a lot of bonding time lately, that’s for sure).   The kitchen was well equipped so we were able to eat in every night which our family actually prefers after a long day of activity.

Day 3:  Custer SP (Wildlife Loop, Prairie View Trail, Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake/Sunday Gulch Trail, Iron Mountain Road) and Mount Rushmore!

Wow, what a day.  We really packed it in, particularly for us.  Lots of car time though as we took in all 3 scenic drives in the park while also doing 2 hikes before heading off to Mount Rushmore.

custer spOur cabin was near the “tunnel information” graphic just outside the state park.  We started the day doing the blue Wildlife loop with a short walk along one of the stops.  We then proceeded along the “brown” Needles highway to get to the Sylvan Lake area for another hike.  We then back tracked down 89 and re-entered the park and cut across to do the “gold” Iron Mountain Road south-to-north to get to Mount Rushmore.

DSCN3367What do you know, heading towards the Wildlife Loop, we see our first 2 buffalo/bison along the roadside.

DSCN3370a few prairie dogs too

DSCN3373Next stop was the Prairie View trail, a short (2.2 mile) loop that took just over an hour.  Our hope was to see some more bison (at a distance) but that wasn’t the case.  It was a nice stroll but not too exciting.  The poison ivy warnings were a little disconcerting particularly since there were quite a few overgrown bits.

DSCN3374and we were off — it was a warm day but fortunately this was still fairly early

DSCN3375a nice flower along the way

DSCN3381back in the car and another bison sighting–slightly bigger herd this time

DSCN3382the famous wild burros

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DSCN3384close the window! (we forgot to bring carrots)

DSCN3388a much bigger herd, albeit at some distance

DSCN3391pronghorn antelope (still on the Wildlife Loop)

DSCN3394our last bison on the loop; fairly close to the road this time

DSCN3397this is the famous needle’s eye at the top of the Needles Highway — though fine, it was my least favorite of the 3 drives (one-way tunnels and congestion)

DSCN3400the very pretty Sylvan Lake

DSCN3402another couples shot, albeit a little backlit (it was turning into a scorcher)

sunday gulch graphI decided to bypass the “Lover’s Leap” hike along the Wilderness Loop and head straight for the stretch goal of the “Sunday Gulch”.  Rated as difficult, it lived up to billing, particularly on this very hot afternoon.  As you can see from the chart above, we set off down into the gulch and climbed our way back out.  We went “backwards” (counter-clockwise) which avoided climbing up the steepest bit — good call.  It still wiped us out.  4.1 miles in 2:43 (30 minutes of that was rest due in large part to the heat).  About a 700′ climb (it seemed more).  Did I mention it was hot?

DSCN3404down, down we go

DSCN3405Down some more — I thought this might be a cooler walk since they mentioned some areas can have snow/ice into June due to the lack of sunlight.  We didn’t find any of those!

DSCN3408one of the views on the climb back out

DSCN3412Next was the Iron Mountain Road.  It’s important to do this one south to north because as you approach Mount Rushmore, the monument starts to come into view through the tunnels and other viewpoints.  It’s there in the distance in the photo above though it didn’t come out that well.

DSCN3413still on our way — it was neat to see it from afar

DSCN3414another viewpoint

DSCN3417 (2)and we made it!

DSCN3418I have to say, this was pretty impressive.  This was completed in 14 years (1927-1941).  A lot more dynamite was used than I expected (for the close in work).  They had a nice exhibit explaining how the scale model translated to the real deal using the “pointing” system.

DSCN3419a cleaner close up

DSCN3420and a final one with the kids

Phew, what a day!  The plan was to hang around until the evening lighting ceremony but we were just too pooped.  We settled for ice cream and a 30 minute drive back to our cabin.

Day 4:  Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway & Devil’s Tower

We had another long day planned, albeit with a lot of car time again.  The weather forecast around Custer SP was a little dodgy but things looked better to the northwest so we decided to take in the scenic drive to Spearfish and then carry on to Devil’s Tower National Monument.

spearfishSpearfish is close to 2 hours from Custer but it was a nice drive.  We set off early as usual taking 385 through Hill City and then up to Lead where we jogged down to pick up the southern end of the byway.   There are a number of waterfalls along the way as well as a couple of short hikes that we took in.

DSCN3425We got a free sneak peak at the Crazy Horse Monument.  We (literally) paid it a proper visit later in the week.  In hindsight, this would have been sufficient!  (oh well — considered a donation to the cause)

DSCN3426and another — still a long ways to go

DSCN3430First stop along the scenic byway was the Roughlock Falls hike.  It was a very pleasant 1-mile stroll (each way) along the (Little Sioux?) river.

DSCN3434and one at the falls

DSCN3435and another sans family

We tried to also see the Spearfish Canyon Falls across the street from the trailhead but the trail was under renovation so we weren’t able to see much.

The next stop came from a guidebook but wasn’t in the official brochure.  So glad we found it.  Further up the canyon, off Cleopatra’s Place, was a hike to the Devil’s Bathtub.  It involved numerous crossings of the stream until we reached our destination and it ended up being one of our favorite walks.  It was probably a mile or so out and another back as well though I didn’t capture it.

DSCN3440hard to see, but there is a small green snake slithering under the bush in the middle of the photo — more excitement!

DSCN3442And the actual bathtub (presumably up top — we cut it short at this point).  This really was a great walk/hike.  I was too busy having fun to take photos!

DSCN3444The most popular pullout was for its version of Bridal Veil Falls.

DSCN3445We continued on to Spearfish and saw this gal along the way.

We made a stop at the DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and enjoyed a nice walk around (no worthwhile photos though).  Since we were only an hour away from Devil’s Tower, we of course had to go see it.

DSCN3448The tower stands an impressive 867′ from its base.  It was the very first National Monument (1905).

DSCN3449characterized as an “igneous intrusion”; the tower is made up of many 6-, 7- and 8-sided protrusions

DSCN3453We of course had to walk the 1.3 miles around the base and were afforded some nice views along the way.  (Alex was having a hard time working in extra training for cross country so he took the opportunity to run around it 1.5 times).

DSCN3455Here’s a closer look at some of the protrusions.  While living in England, we had the opportunity to visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.  This is same type of geological formation albeit on a much taller scale!

DSCN0772bonus pic from Giant’s Causeway — Alex has grown a little!

DSCN3457one more looking up, up , up

DSCN3460some cute prairie dogs on the way down the hill

DSCN3461and a final view from a distance — very impressive!

DSCN3463more bison on the way back to the cabin, though these were livestock I believe

DSCN3465a cute little one having a scratch

Day 5:  Wind Cave National Park

Again, the weather forecast was a little dodgy (though fine in the end) so we decided to put off the big hike and take in Wind Cave NP, one of two “national” caves in the area.  We also took in two small hikes within the park boundaries.

DSCN3466Only guided tours at Wind Cave.  Ranger Earl starts us off at the natural entrance where the cave’s pressure differential caused wind to blow in and out.  Fortunately, there was an easier entrance for us!

DSCN3471Wind Cave is known for its “boxwork” and was the first cave to be named a national park.  Here’s my crappy photo of it (my cave photos never turn out).  Much better examples here.  At any rate, it was pretty unique, even for us cave snobs.

Since the weather turned out okay, we decided to take in a few short hikes.  The first was a rather unimpressive 2.7 mile in/out roundtrip on the Cold Brook Canyon trail.  The hope was to see some bison but we had to settle for prairie dogs.

The second hike was much nicer.  The Rankin Ridge Trail was a short 1.0 mile loop that had great views.

DSCN3479this guy was going off — that tail was wagging for every “bark” he made

DSCN3480another one — the walk went through a “dog town” and there were plenty around

DSCN3481nice flowers (for Kuk)

DSCN3482combined with thistle flowers this time

DSCN3483a sample of the rather nondescript (some might say boring) trail–universally our least favorite unfortunately

DSCN3489random bison while driving between trailheads

DSCN3495the much better view along the Rankin Ridge trail

DSCN3497a deer to join us

DSCN3502more Rankin Ridge

DSCN3504and walking back down

DSCN3506a really lonely bison in the field by himself

DSCN3511We finally hit the bison motherlode on the way back from Wind Cave.  We were going to circle around the Wilderness Loop again to try our luck but we didn’t even have to go around before seeing the stereotypical herd blocking traffic.

DSCN3512there were quite a few close ones as you can imagine

DSCN3514some babies too

DSCN3515maybe 40 or so?

DSCN3518we patiently waited for them to cross

DSCN3523as did others

DSCN3524looking right at me

DSCN3529and a final little one

Day 6 — Harney Peak! and Crazy Horse round 2

Big day.  This is one I’d been looking forward to since I started planning this trip.  Harney Peak is tallest elevation east of the Rockies and would make a nice capstone for my recovery.  [Guadalupe Peak in Texas is taller but I guess it is considered the Rockies for this purpose.]  (For those that don’t know, I had a heart attack at the end of February).  It’s a nice challenge though not too hard in the grand scheme of things.

harney peakI’ll pull out the geeky stats for this “real” hike.  We started from the Sylvan Lake day-use lot and hiked up trail 9.  On the way back, we used a combination of trails 3 & 4 with a side jaunt to the Cathedral Spires before returning.

harney peak graph8.3 miles in total over 5:06 (about an hour of non-moving time for rests and lunch).  About a 1100′ elevation change.  Cathedral Spires is around the 5.5-6 mile mark above.

DSCN3532Here we go.  As usual, we are one of the first ones to the trailhead (7am or so).  The morning started off cool and cloudy.  The Frey clan was well prepared.

harney peakour destination from early in the hike (we didn’t have the big arrow in the sky though)

DSCN3539lots of dead trees due to the mountain pine beetle (nasty bugger); makes for some blight but also enables views in the distance

DSCN3543bonus marmot along the way to the summit (Alex was in the lead and spotted this one)

DSCN3544a look back at the Cathedral Spires from (near) Harney Peak

DSCN3549and there you have it

DSCN3550great views from the top

DSCN3552and another

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7258′ according to the GPS

DSCN3557my wonderful kids who shared this experience with me

DSCN3559rare solo shot

DSCN3561my Father’s Day portrait a few days early

DSCN3562and finally the whole family

DSCN3573sun’s out as we walk back toward the spires

Great hike and very rewarding, especially considering my recent health scare.  So glad we did it.

Since we got such an early start, we had some time in the afternoon for another activity as long as it was low energy!   We decided to pay the piper and actually go inside the Crazy Horse Memorial.

From the wiki link:

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota. It depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.   If completed, it may become the world’s largest sculpture, as well as the first non-religious statue to hold this record since 1967.

DSCN3578not much different than my roadside shots, but I guess it’s a little closer

DSCN3582Here’s an overlay of what it will someday (hopefully) look like.  As you can see, they have a long way to go.  They’ve been going at this for 68 years and the original artist and his wife have passed away.  They had 10 offspring and the majority of them are involved in the non-profit foundation.  Perhaps it was the original wish of Standing Bear and/or Korczak’s own political views, but the project is vehemently against government funding.  I can appreciate that especially given the broken treaty history with the Native Americans but at this rate this memorial isn’t going to get finished in my kids’ lifetime.  That’s not really doing it justice.

DSCN3583One with the 1/34 scale model in the foreground.

DSCN3585and a final parting view

Day 7:  Jewel Cave & Badlands NP

Our final day from our Custer base.  We checked out of our cabin early in the morning (again! we were somewhat operating on Eastern time the entire week) so we could get in line for the limited tickets to the cave.   The Visitor’s Center opened at 8:30 and we got there at 8 but there was already a long line.  It took an hour but we got our tickets.

DSCN3589Sorry, another crappy cave photo.  The formations were more varied at Jewel which was nice.  Our ranger guide, however, was horrible.  Kuk thought she was new and nervous.  I thought she shouldn’t work with people.  Unfortunately, that colored things for me.

In the end, we enjoyed both caves and the variety they provided.

DSCN3634On to the Badlands NP!  Nicole was super excited as she had picked this out.

badlands map

The entire NP is pretty large but the main bit is the stretch along 240 from roughly Interior to Wall.  We drove the ~2 hrs from the Black Hills and decided to start from the “main” entrance in the east.  Due to the super hot temps, we just did a few short walks (viewing points really) and the scenic drive to Wall where our next cabin awaited.

DSCN3598very first pullout — you can get a good idea of what it looks like

DSCN3600here’s another — we all liked the ones with some green grass for contrast

DSCN3604I believe this was on one of the short walks (Door or Window)

IMG_9922we did happen to see this cute little guy (photo credit:  Nicole)

More great views below:

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DSCN3612

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DSCN3620

DSCN3628towards our last stop we did see a herd of big horn sheep

Day 8:  Badlands Hike and Minutemen Missile Sites

We started the day by packing up and heading out early to queue for the free Minutemen Missile tour tickets.  The ticket office opened at 8 but I got there at 7 (second in line).  They had 6 tours that day (some days are fewer) and only 6 people go on each tour so I didn’t want to miss out.  I selected an afternoon tour so we could get our one Badlands hike done in the morning before it got crazy hot.

badlands hikeThe hike as a nice and easy 4-miler that traversed the Medicine Root trail and a portion of the Castle Trail.  We also diverted at the halfway point to see the Saddle Pass trail from the prairie side (no climbing required from that direction).  It took slightly under 2 hours.

DSCN3637Being desert rookies, we were a bit unnerved by the warning sign.  We kept a good lookout as we were walking through the prairie grass but I bet we would have missed them anyway.  We were also hoping for a rattle warning!  Fortunately we didn’t find any (though I honestly wanted to see one from a safe distance).  Nicole sure didn’t.

DSCN3635fatter bunny at the start of this trail — must not be any snakes around, right?

DSCN3639a good example of the prairie portion of the trail–think you could spot a snake off to the side?

DSCN3642we liked the mixture of the rock/dirt formations and the various grasses

DSCN3646more thistle flowers

DSCN3647I love lagging behind and snapping a quick shot of my favorite 3

DSCN3652nice view!

DSCN3654cactus flower

DSCN3659the view from the top of the Saddle Pass trail

DSCN3661Nicole taking in a photo — she had a good eye for them

DSCN3664heading back

DSCN3665cactus terrarium

DSCN3667the dried mud was like walking on potato chips (sorry too lazy to edit out my shadow)

Minuteman Missile Sites

There are 3 Minuteman Missile sites located along I-90 near the Badlands: the Visitors Center (exit 131), Delta-01 launch control (exit 127) and the Delta-09 missile silo (exit 116).  They are National Historic Sites and run by the National Park System.

DSCN3630as mentioned, we got there early for tickets so we got to see the flag go up

 

 

DSCN3673Prior to our tour at Delta-01, we decided to check out the missile silo at Delta-09.   This is either an artsy shot of me looking down the silo at the existing trainer missile or a really poor photographer.  Take your pick.

delta-01Next up was our tour at the Launch Control.  Credit NPS for this photo.

DSCN3681Our guide was a former Missileer who worked on the site in the early 70s and has been giving tours for the last 6 years.  It really added to the experience.

DSCN3675a little ICBM humor painted on the door

DSCN3680and a hefty door it is — this is below ground leading into the control room

DSCN3676control room for 2 people on 24-hr shifts

DSCN3677And here’s a close up — the big red button isn’t what you think.  The two padlocks on the upper right were actually combination locks in the day.  That was to get to the code books.  The launch key is to the left of the phone.  Just like in the movies, there is a second one 12 feet away for the other guy to activate.  There were 5 sites in total.  All would have been given the code and at least 2 sites had to agree to launch (though there were still override possibilities).  Fortunately, none of this was ever used.  It’s hard to argue it wasn’t an effective deterrent.

This was a really interesting tour; I’m not doing it justice here.  Oddly enough it made me think of my dad and his involvement with fallout shelters, etc. as a Physics professor at Davidson.

DSCN3597There was a nice (new) museum at the Visitor’s Center.  Check out this near miss (and great save) on the Soviet side.  It makes you wonder how many times we came close to WW III.

Well there you have it.  From there we drove back to Sioux Falls for another overnight an then on home.  It was a really nice, relaxing trip.  We all had a good time.

Family favorites:

  • Harney Peak
  • Devil’s Bathtub creek walk
  • Badlands views
  • Devil’s Tower
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Minuteman Missile Launch Control Facility Tour
  • animals:  bison, pronghorn, deer, bighorn sheep, marmot, bunnies and prairie dogs

Not sure I would want to drive that much further, but it was nice to have our own car with our own stuff.  Least expensive full vacation in quite some time too!

Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns NPs

selfie

Greetings blog fans!  This past week we embarked on our second annual (i.e. traditional) Thanksgiving hiking vacation.  Since the kids’ fall breaks don’t line up and we see family over Christmas, we’ve decided we like heading outdoors to stretch our legs and hopefully soak up some sunshine.  This year certainly fit the bill.

texas_map

Our trip was to a previously unvisited part of the country and involved 3 National Parks in southwest Texas and southern New Mexico.  We also fit in a stop to a renowned astronomy observatory.

 

After flying into Midland Airport, we drove ~4 hrs to Big Bend NP where we stayed for 4 nights.  We broke up the 5-6 hr drive to Carlsbad, NM with a stop at the McDonald Observatory.  We stayed 2 nights in Carlsbad to visit Guadalupe Mountains NP and Carlsbad Caverns NP before heading back to Midland for our last night.

Day 1 (Sunday) — Big Bend NP:  Windows & Lost Mine Trails

Map_of_Big_Bend_National_Park

Big Bend is a large national park in southwest Texas that borders Mexico.  I was surprised to find out that it is only the 15th largest NP in the country.  There are 5 visitor centers and essentially 3 main areas:  Ross Maxwell Drive, Chisos Basin and the Rio Grande Village.  I had a “stretch goal” of hitting all 3 but came up short on the latter.  There is only one lodge which is in Chisos Basin so that’s where we stayed.

chisos_basin_map

We had a fairly aggressive first day planned with two 5-6 mile hikes in the Chisos Basin area (nothing like jumping into things).  The first was The Window (purple box above) and the second was The Lost Mine (red box).

DSCN3071

Here we are at the start of the first hike (all smiles).  The “Window” is the illusion of the two mountains coming together as a V in the center of the picture.  As you can see, crisp, blue skies on this day.  It was probably 50F or so starting out.

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A closer shot of the Window.  All the sticks are local agave plants called Lechugilla.

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Obligatory cactus shot.  Aww, it’s heart shaped.

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As you can tell, I like to get shots of the crew up ahead of me, particularly if the scenery is interesting.

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I guess this is the actual window though it isn’t where the two mountains touch (they don’t actually).  Rare couple shot (hats off this time!).  The rocks were pretty slick so we didn’t venture any closer.

DSCN3083

Heading back on this in-and-out hike.  Nice clear day with wispy clouds.

 

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After a well deserved lunch break, we headed to the Lost Mine trail.  Nothing like a mountain lion warning sign to get your attention.  Fortunately, we didn’t see one on the trail.  We think we may have seen on on the drive in (at night) but we weren’t 100% sure.

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The trailhead is further up the road so once we started hiking up we got  a different view of the Window.

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bumpy hills and mountains

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another nice view on our way up

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not sure we found the actual “Lost Mine” but there was a nice plateau that offered these views

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Nicole and I went off to explore a little more (still no Lost Mine) while the other two decided to park it

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living on the edge (the sun generally out-matched my photographic skills on this trip)

DSCN3098

one more view into the distance

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I’m always amazed at trees growing out of rocks.

window

lost_mine

Geeky stats time.  The Window ended up being 6.0 miles with 1000′ elevation change that we did in 3:00 hours (2:36 moving).

The Lost Mine was 5.0 miles, 1134′, and 2:58 (2:31 moving).

So, 11 miles, 2100′ and 6 hours on the first day.  Good job Team Frey!  That was a good warm up for our big day on Tuesday.

 

Day 2 — Monday:  Big Bend NP, South Rim Trail

chisos_basin_map

Today’s adventure was to tackle the South Rim which some call the best hike (and best views) in Texas.  This would be our longest family hike to date (green box) and would involve another 2000′ ascent.  I knew it would be a challenge but I really wanted to give it a try.  Fortunately, we could jump on the trail right outside our cottage and shave a few miles off the total trip.

DSCN3100

Deer sighting before we got started.

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Start of hike = happy (Kuk did come, she just passed on photo op this time)

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Overcast day with the sun peaking through (those aren’t the mountains we climbed though).  The views would be damped without the glorious sunlight but we were glad to have cooler temps on this day.

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That’s essentially the mountain to climb.  The hike involved climbing early and then getting to a plateau while we walked to the back (south) side for the views.

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Yet another view of the Window

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