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China and Platinum; an adventure to celebrate 20 years!

China and Platinum; an adventure to celebrate 20 years!

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been twenty years since Alana and I vowed to love and cherish one another for eternity, but it has. In an effort to not sound overly sappy (I can be), I’ll just say I feel very blessed to have found a partner so early in life that has not only been willing to put up with my crap but appears to be willing to continue doing so! 😛

For several years Alana and I have planned to be remarried by Elvis, an alien, or something silly in Las Vegas for our 20th anniversary. Earlier this year we started to make those plans a reality. Somewhere along the way we realized we were about to put a whole lot of money out for a long weekend to Vegas. Now, this wasn’t so much the issue, but rather our only plans that didn’t involve getting pretty far away from the city was the silly wedding redo that would take all of a couple hours. So, it wasn’t long before we set our sights a little more central to where we actually wanted to spend our time…. we were headed to northern Arizona!

As many of you know, we aren’t scared to put in some windshield time for a long weekend of exploring. This said, the 27 hours from our home to the hotel was a little too much travel for a 4-day weekend, so this exploration was going to be a bit different. We decided to fly in and get a rental car. There was a fair amount of deliberation on rental type as we are darn near incapable of staying on paved roads and, in-spite of the fact we ultimately went for a convertible car, this trip would be no different.

 

Luckily, between our VERY early departure from home and with us gaining time as we traveled west, we arrived in Phoenix with darn near a full day yet to enjoy. Alana planned to make full use of this and, after a quick pit stop to get lots of water and sunscreen, we were headed north into the Tonto National Forest where she had planned a little buggy time!

 

Unfortunately, Alana has never been overly good at handling heat and, with her not drinking as much as she should on the flight to avoid extra pit stops, it wasn’t long until the 111 degree heat got to her and we had to take a break. She came around pretty quickly once she got the hot helmet off of her head and a cooling towel on. About the time she started joking with me I knew I was in the clear to grab the camera and take some pictures of the sights from where we stopped.

 

With it being several klicks to the hotel and Alana already pushing her heat tolerance, we decided to put the top up, crank the air conditioning and meander our way in that direction pretty promptly after completing the buggy ride. This really worked out as we were feeling the time shift a bit and had to get up really early again for the next day’s plans.

 

There are many things about popular social media I don’t like, some I do. I put a fair amount of time in on Instagram trolling pages and finding new places to put on the bucket list and this is one thing I LOVE. On this day, we would be knocking a few Instafamous spots off the list. The first being Antelope Canyon.

Antelope Canyon just barely clings to Arizona and is located just south of the Utah line and to the east of the town Page. There are two sections, the upper and lower, each are overseen by separate families of the local Navajo. We were visiting the lower canyon. Both are products of rapid sandstone erosion and you can literally see where water churns and swirls through the area after heavy rainfall. When it’s dry, the caverns offer amazing sights as colors reflect off of the walls creating interesting shadows and textures.

 

The Wolf, The Monkey, and The Chief… (Alana says this sounds like the start of a bad joke. :razz:)

 

I know it sounds cliche, but as hard as I worked to capture the beauty of this place, pictures really can’t do it justice.

Once our tour of the canyon was done we decided to hit up a few other cool spots that are near this area. The first was the Glen Canyon Dam that creates Lake Powell.

 

Then, before the day’s heat got too out of control, we headed over to Horseshoe Bend which requires a little hike to see. While not even a mile, you are either going up or down the whole time and the fairly deep powdery sand makes it far more work than one would think. There is a pretty big reward for doing it though!

 

After getting back to the car we were on the back half of the day, so we set our sights back to the hotel for showers and a night on the town.

The colors that are present in Arizona always amaze me. In an hour drive you are likely to experience temperature swings in excess of 25 degrees and literally every color of the rainbow in the landscape. You will go through cactus filled deserts, pine filled forests, and rocky landscapes galore. All set below an amazingly blue sky.

 

I’m not sure how one ever would, but if you do find the landscape a bit boring, there is always the abandoned structures that are often covered in “art”.

 

The following morning we were up and at’em early again (still mostly on east coast time) and had our sight set on the Grand Canyon. With as much getting around as we have done, this spot has eluded us and we were about to rectify that.

True to form, we diverted from the pavement a bit and opted for a long cut through part of the Coconino National Forest.

 

I won’t lie, I was a little apprehensive about continuing after we passed a “Primitive Road” sign, but we rolled on. We figured what the heck, we had darn near a full tank of gas and could always turn around right!? In truth, we never did really travel over anything too crazy, but the fact that we were in a fairly low, rear-wheel drive, sports car kept me fairly attentive to the road.

 

The dirt and gravel continued for about 20 miles beyond the sign where we finally popped out on a road that was mostly paved.

 

This road wandered along a ridge and through the forest for a fair amount of time before pointing us toward Williams which happens to be on Route 66. How could we not indulge in this?

 

Having spent far more time in Williams and on Route 66 than we planned, we put more effort into actually making it to the Grand Canyon. Then, when we were about 30 miles out, we passed a billboard for helicopter tours. That was all I needed…. and after some sweet-talking Alana, we were standing at the Grand Canyon Airport in no time buying tickets. 😛 It seemed our first views of the Grand Canyon would be by air!

 

Once back on the ground, we decided to head into the park and out toward the Desert View Watchtower to work our way west. This way we would be turning right into the viewing spots. Before we got there we stopped off at the Tusayan Ruin. It was cool but we were itching to move along so we didn’t stay too long.

 

Luckily, the Watchtower was literally just around the corner so it wasn’t long before we were stopped again. I must say, the views were pretty amazing. But I must admit, it was very hazy out and it was very difficult to get decent pictures as a result. I won’t lie…. I used a lot of camera trickery and built in filters to try to find a winning picture that wasn’t so clouded.

 

As we continued along the canyon the haze continued to build and, as we neared the end, it was difficult to see the other side. Before this however, I spotted a lone Agave plant atop a ledge and really dug it’s yellow and green coloring with the pinkish/red rock in the background.

 

Just a few more pictures before we wrapped up the day.

 

…and almost as quickly as it began, our weekend was largely over. We still had one more day, but most of it would be spent flying home and giving those three hours up that we gained on the way out. We were treated to a very nice sunset on our way back to the hotel.

 

 

….If you are looking for a little humor…. Here are the top songs from the year we got married 😛

CRAZY COWS – Our 2017 Overland Adventure

CRAZY COWS – Our 2017 Overland Adventure

What started as us helping our son Tommy and his new wife navigate across the country to their new home in Oregon over a year ago, ultimately unfolded into what would become our own next big adventure.

The plan was pretty simple… Blast across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and half of South Dakota before slowing our pace to explore and visit several National Parks, Monuments, and Forests. We would be visiting The Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Bighorn National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Custer-Gallatin National Forest, and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park…. and we tried our best to connect them with extremely remote roads and trails.

Now, if you’re more of a video person, check out the video below which is our best synopsis of this epic journey. If you’re looking for a little more detail and more pictures read on!

 

Almost from the get-go there were some “bumps in the road”. While the initial travel was going fine, it became clear that Mother Nature was planning to throw some curve balls at us, at least for the first couple of days. Nowhere was this made more clear than part way through Illinois where we found ourselves on the leading edge of a nasty storm that was trying to stir up some small twisters. Luckily, it was still pretty light out and we were able to keep moving forward. We were actually moving across the country so well, that it looked as though we might be able to make it into the Badlands National Park just after sunrise instead of late morning as planned.

Once Kegan and I settled into our uncomfortable sleeps, Jay must’ve put the hammer down a bit. He has a way of getting laser focused so this really didn’t surprise me, I could tell that he was crunching numbers and was going to make a run for sunrise as I settled in. By the time he woke me just after 3am for my turn at the wheel, a Badlands sunrise was a real possibility.

Almost like a kid on Christmas morning, Jay was excitedly back up within a couple of hours to push the final distance into the park for the sunrise!

 

The sunrise light Jay so desperately sought after only lasts minutes and, before long, we were back in Klondike and exploring the park. As with so many of the locations on this trip, words nor pictures can really do the beauty to be experienced justice.

 

By late morning, our explorations had strayed from the pavement and were on some of the area’s back-country roads and trails. It was along one of these routes that we found a pretty epic stop for our lunch. We were all alone and on top of the world!

 

It was after lunch and as we made our way toward our planned campsite that Mother Nature smacked us into reality again. It was amazing how quickly storms brew up here and, before we knew it, we were getting wet.

For much of this time, we decided to stay parked and take in a little nap to recover from the long previous night. Eventually, however, we decided we needed to finish our push to a suitable camping spot and this is where things got VERY interesting.

We’ve experienced our fair share of mud… Even clay based types which are prevalent in our southern Ohio area. This said, The Badlands’ bentonite clay and small volcanic rock deposits had a new lesson for us in what became some of the stickiest mud we have ever seen!

Soon, we were getting bogged and having trouble moving forward, or so we thought… What we thought was just normal loss of traction from mud later turned out to not be slipping at all, but rather us dragging our trailer with jammed up tires from the mud that had clogged them. It wasn’t only the trailer that this had happened to, but also the Jeep.

 

It would be after a fair amount of digging, scraping, and checking before we were rolling again. Thankfully, the weather cleared as quickly as it had turned and almost within moments there was no evidence at all the rain had even happened.

After this experience, we decided we needed to check the weather forecast. This isn’t something we wanted to relive! Unfortunately, it revealed that more storms were on their way and it was at this point we decided to ditch our super remote camp and make a run for the Sage Creek camping area where hopefully the soil was more forgiving when wet.

This was a wise choice as we barely got set up before getting hit with another storm that dwarfed the predecessor.

 

The following morning we were headed into the Black Hills and towards Mount Rushmore. It was here that all the “open range cattle” signs were first spotted and for good reason! Multiple times we had to wait/nudge cattle from a road or trail. It wasn’t just while moving. Cows were also our biggest camp nemesis throughout the trip and these interaction are what founded the name of this adventure.

 

Before long we were pulling into Mount Rushmore. While it is an amazing spot that really should be visited by everyone, we kind of enjoyed the journey there more than the destination itself. To this point, we honestly didn’t hang out there long before moving on to camp.

 

This next leg through the Black Hills and to our planned campsite got a little interesting. The forestry road we had selected gradually went from a wide and well-maintained gravel road to a very narrow 2-track lane, so much so that we checked the MVUM map several times as we thought we were on an ATV route. The picture below doesn’t show it well, but this clearing for a downed tree was barely wide enough to wiggle the Jeep and trailer through, especially considering the shear drop that the log is clinging to.

 

The track did eventually widen and the remaining trek to camp was largely uneventful.  The site we had scouted was pretty nice other than the cow patties that sprinkled the area. Since most of them looked to be fairly old, we went ahead and set-up.

Other than some VERY near coyotes early in the evening, sleep here was great…. right up until we woke to a rather loud Moooooo!

Yep! We were surrounded by cows… Big-ins, little-ins, and all those in between. Most were pretty responsive to the shooing Jay gave them. However, there has to be one in every crowd and this one had a heifer that was hell bent on staying. The Mexican standoff was intense for a bit, but Jay eventually won. 😛

 

Once packed, we had more backroads and beauty to enjoy as we worked over and through the Black Hills and to Devil’s Tower.


 

By lunchtime we were at the base of the tower. There really isn’t much to do here unless you are planning to hike or climb so after a quick lunch and taking in the sights, we were on the move again. We had a fair amount of ground to cover to reach our evening stop (hotel).

 

With a much needed shower and nice meal in our bellies we worked our way along Bighorn before making our way up and over. While much of this route was on pavement, it was still a wonderful drive that was full of vista views.

 

The landscape on the other side of the summit was very different from the eastern side. What was once green had turned to brown. Not only was the vegetation different, but the rock was more brown over the greys and reds we saw earlier.

 

We still had a bunch of ground to cover once over Bighorn. The goal was to get into the southeastern part of the Shoshone National Forest for camp, but when we passed through Thermopolis, WY we had to stop at what they claim to be the “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs”.

Trust me… the pictures are better than real life as one of the prevalent minerals is sulfur…  🙄

 

We ended up rolling into camp a bit early, and while it wasn’t the exact spot we has scouted, it turned out to be one of the best sites of the trip. The only real negative to it at all was the mosquitoes.

It was at 9634 ft! We had clear views of snow covered mountains that later we learned were nearly 40 miles away. Heck, our own site had a 20×10 pile of snow that had yet to melt.

 

 

While this was our favorite site, we didn’t sleep the best here… Neither Jay or I could turn our brains off in the quiet. We live pretty rural and thought we knew quiet, but we were wrong. We could literally hear mosquitoes bounce off the tent, in between Kegan’s snores that is…

After cooking some breakfast and packing up, we headed for Grand Teton.

At one of the first overlooks, Jay stopped to try his hand at rock stacking. The one on the left is his so I guess he is alright at it!

 

There really isn’t a lot to say about the Grand Teton area. It’s amazingly beautiful, no matter where you look you are in a post card.

 

….and of course we made a stop at Old Faithful. I mean a trip here just isn’t complete without seeing this notable geyser. This said, we almost missed it twice. Once due to the crazy traffic throughout the park and the second because we were cleaning up from dinner that we decided to make in the parking lot.

 

After driving and visiting just a bit more, we made our way to West Yellowstone (Montana) where we would make camp in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Beyond a solo coyote, this site was pretty tranquil and offered a nice night’s rest.

 

As nice as the Grand Teton area was to see and visit, a few things had become clear that after a quick discussion, prompted us to once again change our plans and cover most of Yellowstone in the following day.

The traffic and people were just too much for us to ever really relax enough to enjoy the area. With us always wanting to “get out of places” we were covering ground far faster than we anticipated and we just couldn’t see how to fill three more days. So, we got up early and planned to make a full day of exploring Yellowstone with an exit out the northeast corner on the Beartooth Highway (US-212).

I was happy this plan seemed to excite Kegan and he seemed much more engaged with taking pictures and being a part of the action and views.

 

As I mentioned, we decided to leave the park on the Beartooth highway (US-212). This trip offered a mountain climb to nearly 11,000 feet and had spectacular view after view along the entire route! …and where else can you have a snow-ball fight in early August? 😛

 

After another hotel stay, we decided to stop by the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is a really nice park, but I must admit it was a little less appreciated by us having already experienced so much natural beauty over the last several days.

It did seem fitting to say farewell to the adventure here though… What began in the Badlands National Park would end in the Badlands of the park honoring the president that worked to protect so many of the areas we’d just ventured through.

 

If you’re interested in seeing more pictures that Jay and Kegan took while on this adventure, feel free to check out the Google Album HERE 

Backroads and Abandoned Awesomeness

Backroads and Abandoned Awesomeness

We’ve got lots to do before our big overlanding trip, but with this weekend’s amazing weather we just couldn’t focus on it and had to get out of the house for some exploring. We weren’t really sure what we wanted to do so we geared ourselves up for a potential hike, but also packed Klondike for some dirt work should we find ourselves way off the beaten path. After typing some GPS coordinates into the navigation to get us close, we were off!

The destination was the Zaleski State Forest and surrounding area, but we decided to start south of there a bit by the Vinton Furnace State Forest and explore our way north(ish).

It didn’t take us very long before we were winding our way along tree covered roads without another soul to be seen or heard. Almost as soon as we found our zen, we stumbled upon an abandoned tunnel.

 

Initially we thought we would explore it by foot, but visibility inside the tunnel quickly diminished to a point where we were unsure of our steps. So, after checking the depth of the mud hole at the entrance of the tunnel, we decided to nose Klondike in to shed some light on things!

 

After walking around a bit in the light and getting our feet good and covered in mud, we decided the path looked clear for Klondike to make the distance and, since we were dying to know what was on the other side, we did just that!

 

The picture above doesn’t really do justice to the length. I’m not certain, but I’d put it close to 900 feet long in all.

 

Once out the other side and with GPS signal regained, we realized we had essentially cut through the hill and were right back on the same road we’d left that took the long way around. This is our kind of shortcut!

After a short jaunt on pavement, we took a turn on some gravel. It was on gravel or dirt that we would spend most of our time for the remainder of the day. Alana and I love these rural roads and, while we love the scenery that often accompanies them and captivates us, Kegan often grabs a nap as he is put to sleep by the sounds of gravel under the tires. We are never sure if we should wake him or not… We see where it’s kind of boring for a teen so we typically don’t press the issue and are just happy he is hanging with us.

 

Since we had already stumbled upon one abandoned tunnel, we decided to make our way over toward the Moonville Tunnel which was nearby. It has been nearly 20 years since we were last there and we were curious how it was holding up.

 

Thankfully, the tunnel itself seems to be holding up pretty well. It’s biggest nemesis being vandals over father time. It is for this reason we are intentionally being a bit vague on the location of our first tunnel.  So many of these amazing spots are damaged by people which results in either closure or gating to prevent exploration. When we find something that has been relatively untouched we tend to protect it more and leave it for others to discover as we did.

 

Shortly after leaving the Moonville Tunnel we took a small track off the main road. It turned out that it lead to the old Moonville Cemetery. I know some think it’s a bit morbid, but we like visiting old cemeteries. Alana and I like to look for the old dates and wonder what life was like for them… What did they do? What was their life like?

I know this picture isn’t clear enough to read, but in person the dates are 14?? – 150? That’s right, this person was laid to rest here over 500 years ago! This is by far the oldest date we have ever read. In fact, we wonder if this headstone was replaced at some time as it’s usually on headstones of the early to mid 1700s where they become too weathered to read. Being that this date is precolonial and this person would’ve lived during Columbus’ voyage that landed him here, we studied it very carefully and are quite certain of the numbers. We can only wonder if this person was an early explorer from Europe or perhaps someone with Viking heritage (who explored North America from 1000-1200)? With the name portion of the headstone now missing, that’s all we are left to do…wonder…

 

After a quick snack, we were back in Klondike and stirring up dust.

 

We found some pretty amazing and remote roads, but nothing quite as neat as what had already been discovered. While there were some nice tracks that shot off to destinations unknown, they were often accompanied by a locked gate or “No Trespassing” sign which we always respect.

 

This is a major difference when exploring east of the Mississippi as compared to west of it (generally speaking). When we make our way out west it is generally accepted that you can explore and be just about anywhere unless it is posted otherwise. There are lots of public land and it’s uses are not nearly as restricted in the east. While the “law” still works the same way, actual land use is fairly challenging as many feel it should be considered trespassing unless signed you CAN be there. Even roads that are on county or township maps are regularly blocked by local land owners for their personal use and not much is done about it.

This has long been the way things work though and this picture shows that better than words ever could.

 

These roads are so infrequently traveled that you never know what you may stumble across. Case in point, being this downed tree we came across. While we worked to pull the tree clear so we could get by (which took about an hour and is an entirely different story), we didn’t see another car or person.

 

Between Klondike’s light weight and the way this tree fell, we ended up having to reposition and use a snatch-block for a better pull angle. This one is Alana scoping out the dog that showed up to watch the show.

 

Having gotten all sweaty clearing the road, we decided to make a lazy way for home. The road we took back toward pavement was pretty nice and ran along some marsh land for over a mile. I won’t lie, the road and land had a very southern feel to it.

 

…and just like that, we were home and prepping for our return to work and those responsibilities the day had distracted us from.

We hope you enjoyed!

Horseshoe Falls at Caesar Creek State Park – Ohio

Horseshoe Falls at Caesar Creek State Park – Ohio

Not every adventure needs to be a long one that involves a lot of travel. Sometimes it’s right in your backyard….

This is certainly the case with the Horseshoe Falls at Caesar Creek State Park. We travel a fair amount and are always up for a weekend journey. Even our “local” adventures often lead us a few hours from home but sometimes time and money don’t allow for this. When we found ourselves in this very situation, yet completely unwilling to waste a nice day inside, we looked for a closer adventure. This little hike fit our requirements and needs perfectly!

 

Horseshoe Falls can be a bit tricky to find. This is largely because their location is largely known by the locals and isn’t published on any of the official hiking maps of the park. There is, however, plenty of signage once you’ve already found the right place to be. :Razz: This is because there really isn’t a trail that is dedicated for Horseshoe Falls, rather it’s access is a slight derail from the much larger Perimeter Loop Trail.

If you are looking to keep the foot mileage down, we have found it best to either park at the emergency spillway or one of the lots just north of it on Clarksville road. I have marked potential parking spots in red below along with the path we took in yellow. No matter where you start, the goal is to join and follow the Perimeter Trail along Flat Fork Creek to the falls.

 

From where we started, there are nice open views of the southernmost part of the lake. While the trail began in tree cover, we were quickly out in the open as we walked across the emergency spillway which is where the creek had flown for thousands of years prior to the dam that was built in 1970s.

 

The really cool thing about this is that this waterflow has eroded millions of years worth of soil and now there are lots of fossils exposed in the rocks.

While it is possible to remove these fossils by obtaining a permit at the visitor center, we find it best to simply record our findings with a photo so others can have fun exploring the area behind us. It’s easy to burn a bunch of time here so make sure you allow a bit extra for the mission derailment that is sure to happen.

On this visit we found what appears to be some teeth and a shell on the opposite sides of the same rock.

 

Once back on track, the trail quickly narrows into a more common hiking trail for Ohio.  Since the best waterflow is after some rain, you should plan to get into some mud as it is largely unavoidable in spots. While the trail is pretty easy, it is this mud and the soil’s slick clay base that prompts a bit of warning for those with balance issues.

 

It’s just about a 3/4 mile into the woods once off the spillway where you will catch your first views of the falls as you look down from a small cliff.

 

As you continue a little farther down the trail you will come to a suspension bridge that will grant you access to the opposite side of the falls for a much closer view.

 

As you cross this bridge, you will be greeted by the handywork of some busy rock stackers.  Given that the rocks in the area are pretty flat and easily stackable, there isn’t necessarily a lot of skill exhibited here. But I must admit the idea of wading and killing some time here in the cool water and listening to the falls in the background was pretty appealing and almost drew me in for some modifications. 🙂

 

Once across the bridge and near the end of the falls you can get a look at the bottom side of the cliff where you once stood and took those first looks at the falls. In truth, it’s not a very large or amazing cliff face, but it is certainly an odd terrain for the area that is otherwise pretty flat and boring.

 

…and as I mentioned, it is from this side of the bridge where you can get up close and personal with the water and falls.  If you’re planning on wading, I would suggest some water shoes as underwater rocks are prevalent and there is enough algae on them to make them fairly slick.

 

We killed a fair amount of time here just dinking around, but soon we decided to head back across and toward the car.

 

Our hike back was largely uneventful. We managed to walk back through the spillway without being distracted and made pretty good time. At least until Alana spotted a little snake that we stopped to watch. This little guy had a VERY red tongue in person, but the camera didn’t seem to catch it in spite of my best efforts to do so.

 

…and before we knew it we were back at the car. Our hike wrapped up at just under 2.5 miles. With plenty of opportunity to either decrease or increase this mileage, this little destination should suit a wide range of hikers and their abilities.

I hope you enjoyed this post, please share and comment if you did!

 

 

 

 

Overlanding The Allegheny National Forest

Overlanding The Allegheny National Forest

In spite of our best efforts, our winter projects rolled right up to the beginning of spring.  Normally this is okay, but the tail end of our winter was more spring-like than some of the first weekends of the actual spring.

Due to the ugly weather (and some other things), we have had a heck of a time getting out to enjoy the fruit of those winter project efforts. Something that needed rectifying and pronto!

So, we set our sights on 5/20/17 and decided this would be a trip with Klondike. Initially, we tried to put a rookie trail ride together.  When scheduling became an issue for people to tag along, we changed it up and decided to visit the Allegheny National Forest for some solo overlanding fun. 😛

The Allegheny National Forest covers just over half a million acres in Northwest Pennsylvania. While the area is wild and beautiful, it also lies in a rich oil and gas region. In addition to the O&G production, logging is also present which means, over time, the area has become full of roads and trails now under the control of the US Forestry Service.

It didn’t take us long after entering the region to find one of these roads and start exploring…

 

We quickly realized that the area was far too large to cover in one weekend so we set our sights on the north-central area (south of the Kinzua Dam, along the river and Kinzua creek/bay). Our plan at this time was to come back for another area in the future (more on why we may not later).

This new strategy meant hitting some pavement again to work toward that target area, but we needed to stretch our legs. So before the cruise there we made a quick stop for a super short hike at the Tidioute Overlook.

 

It was a pretty neat spot that had a nice view of Courson Island on one side and of Tidioute City at the other. The nicer thing by far, was the leg stretch!

 

Before long, we were back in the woods and on dirt. All of the roads were pretty well maintained. Often so much so that it was easy to find yourself gawking and moving a touch too quickly. A situation soon to be reprimanded for by the rogue holes that were sparse but prevalent.

 

After a long run on Hook Run Road (FS-160) we ended up stopping at Jakes Rocks. Here, we took in another short hike and a few overlooks.

 

The Allegheny River was not the only sight to see on this little hike. There are many outcroppings of large rocks that host interesting vegetation and critters.

This tree is proof that where there is a will, there is a way…

 

On our way back out I got caught partially in the moment and on a mission at the same time. This little bee was fun to watch hopping from flower to flower faster than I could ever muster a camera focus. This was the closest I got.

 

After a bunch more dirt road exploring we decided to set our sights on finding a campsite. Dispersed camping is allowed in many places throughout the forest and you can spot areas that are set up for it.

Knowing where you can and cannot be, however, is another matter and proved to be rather difficult. We have always had good luck with National Geographic maps and, while we consult several other sources, they have proven to be very reliable and our “go to” for navigation. Unfortunately, we found a very high level of inconsistencies with all of our navigation sources. We used Gaia Maps, Maplets, Google Maps, NatGeo Maps, The Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), and the Jeep’s GPS/Map (which is actually quite good). Sadly, we had a hard time finding consistency among any of them on what roads we were able to be on and, as soon as we thought we had it figured out, we came across a closed gate or sign stating otherwise.

Eventually, we did find a nice secluded spot to set up camp and we were at least fairly certain we were allowed to be there.

 

This site proved to be pretty amazing really. It was about a mile down a dead end, two-track dirt road and from the time we turned on it until the time we left the following morning, there was not another human soul to be heard or seen. We did have a few visits from a noisy turkey and a nosey raccoon that tested our trash bin.

We all slept pretty amazing but broke camp fairly quickly after breakfast to beat out weather we thought was headed our way.

Once rolling again, we got some cellular reception and learned that weather was still out a few hours so we made a few stops before heading home. The first was an overlook of the Kinzua Point and Complanter Bridge.

 

Just a short jaunt down the road was the Kinzua Dam.

 

The walkway at the dam had several flowering bushes and trees all along it and, since I am still working out all the features of my new camera, I decided to snap a few shots.

 

Then on the way out we spotted something that supports my theory that Pennsylvania is thirty years behind the rest of the country…. Kegan didn’t even know what this was. 😛 This said, I don’t remember ever needing to put $0.50 in one or there being QR-codes on them. 😉

 

This was the first real run with the trailer and Klondike pulling it. For the most part, everything went absolutely great. I did have an issue with the rubber skirt I added to the fenders to fully cover the tires that needs worked out but I think it will be a pretty easy fix. Klondike, on the other hand, was both amazing and horrible… She performed much better than expected in every way except fuel economy which is the entire reason we have this rig! I hate to admit it, but we saw tank averages as low as 10.8 MPG. This is a major bummer and will likely impact our uses for her in the future.

As for the Allegheny National Forest, the date restrictions and limited availability of >50” wide vehicles, along with the uneasy feeling of knowing if you are legally where you should be will likely prevent us from spending much time there in the future.

If ATVs, dirtbikes, or side-by-sides are your thing, this is a really neat place you should check out. Even mountain bikers have more resources available than “highway legal vehicles”. There is always hiking, but from what we could tell these trails are largely multi use or more designed for multi-day backpacking.

 

Hopefully you enjoyed this, if so tell us and leave a comment!

…by simply selecting “avoid highways” on my navigation

…by simply selecting “avoid highways” on my navigation

I just wanted to make a quick share on some pretty cool spots I found today in between my morning and afternoon appointments. How? Well, I simply selected “avoid highways” on my navigation! That’s it… well, almost it… I did divert onto a dirt road, but I could see it was actually a cut through to where I was headed. After I turned onto it, it became the suggested path.

All it cost me was 15 minutes extra drive time! #Winning!

I hope you enjoy!

Hiking Cantwell Cliffs (Hocking Hills, Ohio)

Hiking Cantwell Cliffs (Hocking Hills, Ohio)

This past weekend had a split personality. Saturday was cold and started with snow while Sunday was in the 60s and warm. This worked out for us fairly well since we had our CPR re-certification to do on Saturday and were stuck inside for much of the day. Sunday would so nice that we wanted to make the most of the weather by getting outside.

Our destination would be the Cantwell Cliffs for a hike. While part of the Hocking Hills State Park, the Cantwell Cliffs reside to the far north and are fairly disconnected from the other hiking regions. Supposedly the result is a less busy trail system that is also touted as the most photogenic. At least on our visit, the trails were pretty darn busy and, while the area is absolutely beautiful in person, it’s tough to capture the scale and colors in a photo.

 

The trails themselves are fairly short and you can easily hike the entire network in a few hours. This said, they are also some of the most technical trails we have hiked in Ohio and (in our opinion) are not well suited for young children.

This point is made clear almost right out of the gate as you approach the steps at “Fat Woman’s Squeeze” (seen below). The steps are very narrow and have some loose stone and leaf debris that should be taken with caution.

 

As I already mentioned, vertical scale can be tough to capture in pictures, so I had Alana and Kegan stop about 1/4 of the way through this entrance for a quick picture as I stood at the top.

 

Those willing to make the “squeeze” and take on the steps are treated to an amazing rock cliff/cove and small waterfall at the base. In our case, the previous cold snap left some ice and icicles that had yet to thaw in the day’s warmth adding additional visual interest. This cliff itself stands about 35-40 feet above where I am standing and closer to 50′ total top to bottom.

 

We decided to start out on the Gorge Trail (yellow) first. This loop runs along a small stream crossing it several times. The hiking itself is fairly easy with exception of balancing on logs or jumping over the water crossings. This would be no biggie at all if you had a set of waterproof boots or didn’t care to get your feet muddy.

 

There really isn’t that much that differentiates this trail from others in southern Ohio beyond hiking so close to a stream. This may be why I took so much interest in the old cedar log covered in thick moss on the return leg. There was just something that seemed special about the orange wood and vibrant green moss in an otherwise monochrome brown landscape.

 

Rather than returning all the way back to the entrance before doing the Cliff Trail (Red), we decided to cross over a bit early. This path was a pretty steep climb, but took us along another cliff and waterfall view that made it well worth it.

 

This was still only about half way up the cliff/gorge as the small bridge (made more visible in the picture below) is the upper side of the trail we would be on during the return to the trailhead.

 

One problem with this bit of a shortcut we took is a smaller loop that had a third cliff face and waterfall had been bypassed. So, we opted to take on “the squeeze” again to visit this loop. This time, instead of making the full decent, we took an even tighter squeeze that shoots off to the right from where the picture below was taken.

 

Once we wiggled through the rocks, I took this picture before setting of on this final loop.

 

This little “adder” hike would turn out to be our favorite of the area and visit. If you only have time or desire for a quick hike, take this short cliff trail loop. It is sure to please and is full of interesting spots.

 

This little loop will take you right along the cliff and right under a trickling waterfall. Be prepared to make some elevation changes though!

 

Soon we decided it was time to make the hike up and out. As Alana and Kegan started the trek, I waited under a ledge for a final photo.

 

As I mentioned, the trails here are not very long. Even with us doing both loops and then adding another bonus variation of a third loop, we had less than 3 miles on us. I think this is about right though given the terrain. While we could’ve hiked a lot further, we did feel as though we had gone farther than we actually had.

While I have included an image of the trail map below, I would recommend visiting the park website HERE prior to a visit. Statuses, conditions, and rules are always changing and we are not able to keep these up to date.

 

BONUS:

As we left, we decided to take the path less traveled along some very remote and beautiful roads. This path would ultimately take us through the Clear Creek Metro Park. Beyond being Ohio’s largest state nature preserve, it also offers other activities like canoeing/kayaking, fishing, and hiking. We will be sure to revisit this park in the future, but for now we only stopped at a few Civil War era log cabins. The first wasn’t much to look at but the patina on the second had my attention for some time.

 

Although the cabins were locked, the windows were open and there was enough light coming into the cabin for me to sneak a few pictures of the inside with my camera held tight to the glass. 🙂

 

As Alana and Kegan waited for me to have my moment, they plotted our path to some dinner and home. I knew it was time to go…

 

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please leave a comment.

Shawnee State (Ohio) Forestry Roads

Shawnee State (Ohio) Forestry Roads

If you are looking for a little backcountry getaway, Ohio’s Shawnee State Forest may be just the right destination. Especially if you are looking for more of a drive than a hike. With the recent cold snap and projects on pause, this is just what we were looking for.

The forest itself is nearly 64,000 acres and is nestled between the Scioto and Adams counties. Nicknamed “The Little Smokies of Ohio” there are some similarities, but I personally think this is stretching it a bit. The Shawnee Forest is the largest state forest in Ohio but is far from an untouched resource. We were a bit saddened to see all of the logging that is present. Throughout our visit, evidence of past and current logging is evident.

The Shawnee is also one of the only state lands to have open forestry roads. These roads are very well maintained. There would be no problem exploring this area in any vehicle. To this point, exploration by car is likely the way most will utilize the area. An exception to this would be if you had horses. Bridle trails are plentiful and from what we could tell well maintained. A massive place for improvement would be in hiking trails. While the forest does have over 60 miles of hiking trails, they are not well suited for day use, but rather for backpackers looking to backcountry camp on multi-day hikes.

Our visit would begin on the north side of the forest and meander along the forestry roads in an serpentine fashion. We would be following a modified version of the “Panoramic Scenic Drive “. Our hopes were that we would catch the highlights of this loop but also get into the more remote areas. We used Maplets to navigate the park. The map below is the path we took.

 

Once in the forest, it didn’t take us long to realize a fall revisit is absolutely necessary. While many of the views were just a bit too masked for pictures, it was easy to see the through the trees in person to wonderful views of the valleys below the high spots.

 

About a third of the way into our loop we passed the Copperhead Fire Tower. We learned that this 1924 built structure was the first fire watch tower in Ohio and still stands strong. It is open for the public and, even though it was pretty cold and very windy, we decided to make the 60 foot climb to the top.

 

 

In a quest for pictures, I was the only one to make the full climb with Alana and Kegan stopping after about 40 feet for either being cold and/or being bothered by the wind.

I can’t wait for a fall sunset/sunrise revisit here.

 

As we headed back toward Klondike (and her heated seats and steering wheel). I grabbed this shot of the road we were on. As you can see, even the gravel/dirt roads are in excellent shape. There really is no reason any car couldn’t handle this journey.

 

Just around the corner from the spot above was a large overlook that was begging for a photo-op in spite of the fact we had yet to fully warm from the fire tower climb. I was hoping for a family picture here, but Alana and Kegan were not getting out so it’s another shot of Klondike in the landscape. As you can see the running lights are still on, this is because the Jeep is running with the heat on max!

 

Back on the road for some time, we were soon transitioning to the southern half of the forest that is split by SR-125. About half way along this transition is a small loop for access to Wolfden Run Lake. It’s not much of a drive at all, but is a gem of a location for fishing, day camp, or picnic. In our case…. It was another photo-op with just Klondike. I will take the blame on this one though as I backed here up to the water’s edge and it was a bit muddy to get out. (In truth, I asked if they wanted out before backing there and the mud was more of an excuse to stay in 😉 .)

 

While we enjoyed the drive through the southern part of the forest, there were not many special spots for pictures. This was largely due to the dark and chilly weather along with our unwillingness to get out and walk a bit. Normally, weather doesn’t deter us too much but we knew before we even set out on this trip we were not feeling like much more than a drive.

Another note on this area is that there is still a fair amount of visible damage present from the 2009 fires that charred approximately 2800 acres. As if this were not sad enough, it’s made even worse by the knowledge that the cause was ruled arson but remains unsolved.

As we headed out of the area we crossed a small bridge that had a stream running over a solid slab of rock. The reds in the stone and green of the moss was honestly pretty amazing in this otherwise very brown environment.

 

It might sound weird, but this little spot made our day. Alana rolled down the window and we just listened to the water for a few minutes. I’m pretty sure she even took some phone video.

 

It’s always interesting what you can find and enjoy when you just slow down and open your eyes. These little trips help ground us and realize the world and life is much more special than just working and paying bills. Take a break from the “hustle and bustle”…. Explore! You might find more than you expect.

 

Hopefully you enjoyed this. If so, please leave a comment.

 

Exploring the Eastern Smokies of TN and NC

Exploring the Eastern Smokies of TN and NC

With the exception of last year because we went on a Caribbean cruise, we always find ourselves in a pretty dark place this time of year. This year hasn’t been much different in spite of the fact it has been a fairly warm winter. Warm or cold, the sun rarely pokes through the clouds over Ohio and there are only so many shows to binge on before the cabin fever is too much and we need to get out.

Sensing we were all approaching the tipping point of sanity, we planned a quick getaway down south. Sadly, not as far south as the Caribbean…  We decided to head to the Smoky Mountains! We knew when we planned the trip the weather would be a gamble, but if nothing else we hoped the change in scenery would distract us enough and offer some moments to fill our outdoor needs.

We’ve visited this area several times before, but we almost always hang out on the south-west side of Gatlinburg, toward Cades Cove. For this trip we wanted to head more to the east and south east to explore the North Carolina side.

In spite of our ultimate goal, our anxious start to the day offered some time to kill so we decided to check out the Gatlinburg area that we normally bypassed. This is our first visit since the fires that rocked the area last fall.

It didn’t take long to be saddened by what we saw. In truth, we had buried our heads in the sand to the event a bit and hoped it was just overplayed by the media. Having now visited and seen it with my own eyes, I can assure you, if anything, the fires were underplayed.

Our path would take us out of Gatlinburg on Cherokee Orchard Road. Our plan was to make the connection to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail but this leg was closed (presumably from damage that had not yet been repaired from the fires). So, we had to take the short loop just after the Ogle Place and go out the way we had entered.

 

I have no idea what was done to save the Ogle Place structures, but it was clear there were some massive and successful efforts. Evidences of significant burning were just feet from the buildings.

 

This area was hit hard by the fires. Many buildings were lost and the bottoms of nearly every tree are blackened from the nightmare just a few months ago.

This area is filled with amazing hiking trails and we took the opportunity to explore by foot a bit. It will be interesting to see how the forest recovers from the event, but for now the area needs to be visited with extreme caution.

 

For those (like us) who are willing to dredge on, there are still plenty of amazing views to be had. Just keep an eye out for dead overhead branches and be a little more aware of your footing.

Once we were back in the Jeep, we headed out of town along 321 before turning on to 32 for a short jaunt.  Not long after 32 turned to gravel we decided to take the local Trail Hollow Rd to work our way east.

This road is definitely off the beaten path. While the largely brown and dormant trees offer a drab background, the resting summer foliage allowed us to see through the road side trees to some views that are likely missed in the warmer seasons.

 

Although we had covered a fair amount of ground, it was still pretty early and there were lots of animals out and about foraging for their breakfast. Some deer we came across couldn’t have cared less that we were there and barely moved off the road enough for us to pass.

 

Eventually we had to rejoin 32 (Mt. Sterling Rd.) to reach some high clearance forestry roads we were itching to explore just over the North Carolina border. The path to do so was one of the worst visibility intersections I have ever seen. Not much was visible beyond the sky and the grade was so steep the Jeep had to scratch a bit to find the needed traction to get off the gravel.

This intersection was also marked by some interesting brick and castle-like pillars. I’d like to get the history on them someday…

 

It wasn’t long at all before we were again off pavement and back on dirt. In some ways, I was a little disappointed in how well the forestry service had maintained their roads thus far.

 

Before we knew it, it was close to lunch time. So, we set our sights toward the top of Tower Trail where we would enjoy the views and feel sorry for the people we could see traveling on I-40 WAY below us.

 

To be completely honest, just about everything we had done thus far was doable in anything and 4-wheel-drive wasn’t needed, even the water crossings were minivan safe with well-maintained wood bridges.

 

The afternoon would offer some trails and roads more becoming of a Jeep as we moved deeper into the mountains. Soon water crossings (while still maintained) no longer would keep the tires dry and the term “high clearance” became warranted.

This wasn’t anything that Klondike couldn’t handle, but it might be the limits of some lower clearance AWD type SUVs.

Then, just when things started to get interesting, a reality check hit us that the day was starting to get a little long in the tooth and with the short winter days, it wouldn’t be long before darkness settled in. So, with this said we began to work our way back toward civilization.

Before we made it, we happened upon several elk enjoying the heat from the last few hours of sunlight the day would offer.

 

Our plan was to continue south-west where we would eventually intersect the Blue Ridge Parkway to hopefully catch the sunset from one of the many overlooks along the route.

Sadly, when we got to the parkway, it was closed in preparation for some snow in the forecast the following day. This forced us to not only take “normal” roads, but also set our path on the wrong side of the mountains where the sunset would be blocked. 🙁

The following morning we headed back home as I needed to be in Toledo by the end of the night for work the following day. Still unwilling to blast along the interstate we set the GPS to avoid highways. We are always amazed at the things we discover by making this simple change.

In this case, our new discovery was the Douglas Dam and Douglas Lake. I’m sure this isn’t news to any of the locals, but for us out-of-towners, places like this are often missed.

 

Shortly after this we became caught up in conversation and before we knew it were home once again. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about our little weekend getaway.

 

Tell us what you think and leave a comment!

 

 

Ehu’s First Parts Ordered!

Ehu’s First Parts Ordered!

With the direction now established on the overland trailer, it was time to get some of the longer lead items on order. Remember, our goal is to have this thing up and rolling by mid spring, so we need to get cranking.

So, with that said, the doors to the main storage box have been ordered. We opted for “under body” tool box type doors. They are made of Aluminum which will not only help with rust prevention, but also keep the total weight of the trailer down while still being rugged enough for the trails.

We want to have these in hand prior to fabricating the box frame so it seemed like the best place to start.