Working on patience

We would like to move. We’ve been working on moving for a while now. On many occasions I’ve gotten impatient with the progress. I’ve started to focus so much on waiting for news, looking for a place to live, cleaning the house, getting it ready to list….that I’ve forgotten about everything else in life.

As important as it is to have the house looking nice for pictures, I don’t want to look back after we’ve moved (and I know it’ll eventually happen), thinking only about how much time I spent cleaning, not on any of the things we loved about Austin.

We recently made a list of a handful of restaurants we want to hit up one more time before we leave. So far we’ve hit none of them. This week and going forward, we’ll be refocusing our efforts on enjoying our time where we are before it’s gone. I’ve been in those moments of regret, looking back, thinking about how focused I was on the future, forgetting about my present. There will be plenty of time to wrap myself in those moments later.

Less dreaming and focusing on the future, and what may be, and more focusing on the here and now, while I’m still right here.

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Travels, reflection and where you lay your head

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. More than I usually do, which has led to some reflection.

The first trip was out to Oregon, to see my dad’s side of the family. My grandfather had died and I wanted to attend the funeral. I booked a plane ticket and rental car the day before the funeral and headed out. I hadn’t been back to Oregon, my birthplace, in probably 15 years. I tried so hard to remember the last time I’d been but I couldn’t remember. Too long.

The trip was bittersweet; I was here for a funeral, but I was going to see my cousins, aunt, dad, step-mom and grandmother; people I hadn’t seen in so many years. Unfortunately, the last time I’d seen my dad was for another funeral – his sister’s. Why is it that we only seem to see people for weddings and funerals? Continue reading “Travels, reflection and where you lay your head”

Crossroads

When life starts pulling you apart, what do you do? Until today, we were at a crossroads. Both of us had job offers come our way. Sounds great at first, but the jobs are not in the same place. One is out of state. The out of state job would have been much more of a challenge up front because moving takes a lot of time, effort and money, but it would have brought us closer to our family and friends, and most likely would have lent to a less chaotic life a large city provides. The other offer would keep us here where we are, and give a good pay boost (not as good as the other one), but would help out, and possibly help enough so that we can at least fly home every once in a while instead of driving 19+ hours. Continue reading “Crossroads”

Lost Maples Nature Trail

Friday was a good day to get away from the city and plant ourselves into no-signal land. After work, we quickly finished packing up, grabbed the pups and headed out of town. Three hours later, we landed in Lost Maples Nature Trail, set up camp for the night, cracked a beer or two in front of a small fire, then proceeded to bed.

I had been in charge of most of the packing, as I was working from home that Friday, but I failed a bit in the food department. Continue reading “Lost Maples Nature Trail”

Five years overdue

Time gets away from us so easily. Four years ago, Dylan and I moved to Texas, a move that I would never have imagined I would do years and years ago. Texas had never been a thought, but jobs and opportunities came through, and we did it. Two years ago, we bought a house. In Austin. Another feat in this town, where houses go on the market and come off in the same day, where prices are gouged and there’s a competition on even the shack-house in the neighborhood. We’ve had our trials and our triumphs, we’ve made a few friends and explored a lot of country.

But often, we miss out or can’t do all the things we want to do in time. We’d spent four years in Texas and our friends, who moved to Phoenix had been there five, and we had never visited them. Reasons ranged from time, to money, to schedules. It doesn’t matter. We just hadn’t visited them. So we finally picked dates, bought tickets and flew out to Phoenix to visit.

We ate some great food at Bobby Que’s, The Yard,  Matt’s Big Breakfast, Joyride Tacos, among others. We climbed a modest mountain called Squaw Peak and visited the zoo, all over an extended weekend. Always, these trips are too short, but always, they’re invigorating and fun and remind you to take time away from everything to see the people you care about, because this is what really matters.

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Churn Ice Cream – delicious ice cream and awesome service
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Matt’s Big Breakfast – tasty and kept me full even after climbing a mountain
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The Yard- good food and great atmosphere for some games and drinks

Natchez Trace Parkway Pt.6: To the End

Our last stretch of the Trace was from David Crockett State Park to the terminus at mile marker 444. David Crocker State Park is a great park for the hike-lovers. There were multiple different hiking routes you could take with trees marked with a designated color dot to help you navigate your way. Even with the color-dotted trees unfortunately, we zigged instead of zagged and took a much longer route than we had originally inteded. We planned on being on a trail for about 30 minutes, but ended up walking for around an hour and a half, and hiked around three and a half miles. Ah well; it was well worth it. We saw some very beautiful Tennessee country and the weather was good, although it did start to chill down once the sun went down.

It’s easy to start imagining yourself in a wooden cabin on a hill, surrounded by thick woods, cup of coffee in hand, and warm fire in the fireplace when hiking through the parks of Tennessee. I don’t know if I could become a complete recluse but if any place makes me want to become a hermit, it’s this area of the country.

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I love some of these photos, but even the photos don’t do the scenery real justice. Sometimes I want to take a snapshot in my mind and keep it there for when I need to get away. I want to crawl inside this memory, feeling, seeing, and smelling all that was, but the colors and the smells and the cool breeze on my face can never truly be replicated.

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We realized how far we’d gotten off the path when we ended up on a paved road near the Trail of Tears. I’m glad we did though. We found an informational section about the Trail of Tears, and saw this beautiful site of cows grazing on their evening meal during the sunset (below). There was an artist’s rendition of the Trail of Tears and the people who walked among the worn down path. It invoked one imagining the stark quiet among the trees, even with hundreds crossing this path at one time, only the sounds of shuffling feet in the dried, dead fallen leaves. The absent look in these people’s eyes as they were forced to move from their homes to another part of their country. Everything they knew, changing, and not knowing who these people were, why they were doing this, and if they were capable of other things.

History is sometimes hard to look back on, knowing the harm we caused, but if we don’t look back and learn what we did wrong, and what we can do to never do it again, we will never grow and change. DSC00891.JPG

The next day we took off for our last bit of site seeing on the Trace. We stopped off  at the Meriwether Lewis grave site. There was a tall stone grave with a post explaining Lewis’s death, or the lack of information thereof. A couple of interesting items I discovered while at this site: The first was that Mr. Lewis was very young when he died, around 34 years old. This also meant that this guy was discovering new lands in new parts of the world in his 20s. That’s quite the ambitious guy. What is also interesting about him is that, to this day, his death is considered mysterious. DSC00907.JPG

The grave itself is a depiction of a broken column, a life ended tragically and too soon.  According to the Smithsonian Magazine, he was passing through this area, on his way to Washington D.C. to settle some financial matters, but was found by his traveling companion with a gunshot wound to his head and abdomen. His companions assumed suicide because he had been known to suffer “depressions of the mind”. Perhaps he had some sort of bipolar disorder? Apparently Lewis, a young, innovative explorer, with all of his explorations and discoveries, felt like a failure, as he hadn’t fulfilled his initial goal of creating a successful system of trading posts. These trading posts had started to fail once he’d gotten back home, and he fell into depression and drunkenness.

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But a lot of people don’t believe this story and believe there’s more to be told. One of the biggest question marks, is why did he shoot himself twice? He was an expert marksman, very familiar with guns. Why would he need to shoot himself twice? People that question his suicide have come up with a multitude of theories, anything from an assassination plot, to the innkeeper finding his wife in bed with Lewis. Currently the Smithsonian is working on developing more facts with DNA. Who knows if we’ll ever know the full and true story about him, but any clarification always helps.

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Our next stop was an old tobacco farm, donated to the trace by an old farming family. There was a display of an old barn with real tobacco leaves drying. The tobacco process was much more time consuming than many other farming ventures, as the labor of hanging the tobacco, and the time it took to dry it all took up valuable resources, but it must have paid off because the industry remains today.

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We took a nice hike at the Duck River Overlook, to catch some great views. We’d planned on going down the Jackson Falls route as well, but the dogs were wearing out so we headed out to the next spot instead.

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The Gordon House was our next stop. It’s one of the few houses left standing from that day and just shy of 200 years old, so understandably, you were not allowed into the home. What’s neat about this home is that its owner, John Gordon, worked closely with General Andrew Jackson. He was away from the home much of the time due to this, so his wife overlooked and supervised much of the construction. Possibly the first woman foreman? Pretty sweet.

You go girl.

She also outlived her husband by about 40 years. DSC00947.JPG

We stopped at a small place to rest, and I was able to capture some wonderful scenery at the bottom of the hill. This is probably one of my favorite photos. I felt transported in time, and placed right into a painting of Courier & Ives.

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Our last “stop” on the trip before its end was the Birdsong Hollow, which is a beautiful double-arched bridge, that actually won a national design award in 1995. We approached the lookout and I noticed a woman with her back to us. She looked serene, like this was a place she came to often, to gain a sense of peace and quiet. Unfortunately, as we were quietly making our way up to observe the bridge, my dog sneezed loudly and scared her. She jumped and looked back, but just laughed and went back to her relaxation.

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Once we crossed the bridge, we had a handful of miles to go until the end of the Trace. I was really hoping for a photo op right at the end, like on roller coasters, when they take a snapshot of you screaming as you’re catapulted down at 60 mph+. No such luck unfortunately. That was just the end.

Our last couple of days on the road were much less eventful We stayed at Meeman-Shelby State park, on the north side of Memphis, but we got there late at night, and left early, so no pictures were taken or hikes walked, so I couldn’t give you much of a review.

We stopped in Little Rock to visit some friends who lived there and ate at a dog-friendly hamburger place called the Purple Cow. The food was good, and it was kind of nice to be able to just order food and eat it, instead of having to cook and clean up on a make-shift kitchen.

We then trekked to White Oak State Park, our last park of the trip. This park was loaded with people, and the vast majority were hunters.

We got some great pictures of fall colors, cranes, and other wildlife, and the camp was full of friendly people, so overall the quick stay was pleasant. This park definitely felt like one that was mostly made for hunters just needing a place to stay, instead of something like Tishomingo, which was made more for recreation and hiking. The bathrooms here were very nice, most likely built within the last 5-10 years, and were heated well (which was good as this was our coldest night of the week).

 

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We got the trailer back to the owner around noon, and were back in Austin by 4pm. We napped in our own bed, which felt amazing, then heading to a concert that evening.

If you are looking for a great, easy going road trip, to reinvigorate your love of the country, I highly recommend it. You can take it slowly, like we did, averaging around 80-100 miles a day, or you can go quicker if you want, but with all the stops and the history, I definitely recommend a nice slow trip through this historic area.

 

Natchez Trace Parkway Pt. 5: Tishomingo to David Crockett SP

On Wednesday, we only put about 65 miles behind us, but there was plenty to see. Tishomingo State Park was my favorite of all the parks we stayed at. The only real downfall was that our site was so far away from the bathroom/shower area, but only because one was closed for renovations. But, the bathroom that was open was great. It was heated well, which was good because this was the first night that reached into the 30s, and the showers and overall quality of this bathroom was the nicest along our stops. Tishomingo would be a great place to bring a group of people camping. Among other things I’m sure I missed, was a pool, a suspension bridge, volleyball court, lots of hiking trails, and cabins. It was one of those parks you could spend days at and not get bored. DSC00706.JPG

When we initially arrived, there were a few birds hanging out at the lake, which was directly behind us. I noticed right away something odd. There was a Canadian Goose, a Chinese Goose (aka Swan Goose) and a domesticated white duck, all hanging out with each other. Now I’m no bird expert, but I didn’t think these breeds hung out with each other. These three stuck together all evening, until I couldn’t see them anymore. I was compelled to keep taking pictures of them, just because it was something I felt was a rare sight.

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I also spotted a heron, but they’re much shier than geese, so this one took off before I could change my camera to a sport mode/faster shutter speed and capture it taking off.

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In the morning when I woke, a fog had laid itself over the calm water of the lake. The scenery was wonderful and I was surprise with a whole gaggle of geese wandering the lake. The Chinese Goose and the duck were also included in this gang.

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I observed later, when they had come up on land to eat, that it seemed the Chinese Goose was the leader. He/she would honk a few times, and the others would get to eating. It almost seemed as if the Chinese Goose was keeping watch while the others ate, which is interesting because, after doing  a little research, it seems to me this kind of goose is actually domesticated, much like the white duck. I’m guessing he/she must have been abandoned and luckily got picked up by this gaggle, and amazingly rose the ranks.

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I spotted the heron again, but he/she was on the far side of the lake. Luckily I had my bigger lens on me and switched it up quickly. I love the silhouette I got from this shot.

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Once the fog burned off, we took a hike around the lake. The colors here were slightly past prime, but still beautiful.

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There’s something romantic about a suspension bridge like the one at Tishomingo. The bridge somehow is warm and inviting, and yet invokes recollections of childhood innocence lost over years. It reminds me of coming of age movies, the kind you can relate to in some way, whether it be from loves lost, or lessons learned.

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Our first stop of the day, and most disastrous, or embarrassing anyways, was at Cave Spring. It was a small cave that was believed to have once been used by Native Americans as a watering hole.

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The embarrassing part was when I walked down to get a better look at the cave. I was walking down holding the pups, trying to gracefully walk down the path, but with the dogs pulling, and slippery leaves below me, it was more of a half-stumble-but-never-fall walk and was not so graceful. As fortunate as it was that I didn’t fall down the stairs, it was an unfortunate event that the end cap to the dog’s poo bag did fall off without my knowledge and his newly inserted bag roll unfurled down the stairs. I didn’t realize this until Dylan noticed and alerted me. I looked back and saw a bright blue streak of plastic behind me. To add insult to injury, there was a man at the top of the cave, watching every move. Thanks for the heads up, buddy! I stupidly gathered up the bags as best I could and marched back to the car. Dylan found the cap near the entrance and we headed out.

Our next stop was much less embarrassing and actually quite enlightening. We stopped off at the Freedom Hills Overlook. It was a great spot to take a great shot of my dog Arthur. Isn’t he handsome?

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When we first reached the top of the overlook area, which is Alabama’s highest peak at 800 feet, we were a bit underwhelmed. The view wasn’t all the great, mainly because the trees had grown up past our view.

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But as we were standing there, trying to get a couple of shots, we heard a voice behind us. A man called out to us and said, “The view is actually better up here.” So we hiked up through some brush and up a slight hill to what was actually probably the highest peak. The man introduced himself as Dan, a recent transplant to the Muscle Shoals area from Nashville. He was a wandering musician that decided to make his home in Muscle Shoals. We got on the topic of music almost instantly. We talked about great artists that visited this area to record, like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, and The Black Keys. The sound that was created in this small town was unlike anything that had ever been played before and it was the start to popularizing that deep down, dirty bluesy southern sound we all can recognize He mentioned a documentary about Muscle Shoals, so I made a note to jot it down so I could see it when I got home. (It was a great documentary by the way – I didn’t realize that if it wasn’t for Muscle Shoals and Fame Studio, Aretha Franklin probably wouldn’t have existed. I recommend it).muscleshoals

We also started to talk about Canadian bands like The Band (almost completely Canadian anyway), and Gordon Lightfoot. Now you’re probably thinking, “Oh come on. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald??” But think about this. How many times have you listened to an artist on the radio and thought, “there are so many better songs on that album”. Apparently this is the case with Mr. Lightfoot and many of his songs on popular albums never got the recognition they deserved but encompassed the scale of his talents to a much higher degree. He recommended listening to an entire album while smoking pot (he was definitely of the hippy variety), and although I may try it out listing a full album, I’ll abstain from the pot smoking.  Thanks mister hippie man.

We thanked him for the advice, said our goodbyes, and headed on our way to our last stop for the day, which was the John Coffee Memorial Bridge. It’s the Parkway’s longest bridge and crosses the Tennessee River.

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We stayed the night at the David Crockett State Park in Lawerenceburg, Tennessee, which was off the trail about seven or eight miles, but easy to navigate to. Although it was my first time in Tennessee, there was something so reminiscent and connected about Tennessee that I loved, not to mention all the beautiful scenery. It felt like a place I’d want to keep coming back to.

But until then. More of Tennessee and the end of the Trace on the next post…

Natchez Trace Parkway Pt. 4: Hurricane Creek to Tishomingo

In the last post, I’d mentioned that we stayed at Holmes County State Park in Mississippi, and that it definitely gave off creep vibes. When I walked into the bathroom to shower, it sounded like there was someone sweeping the central part of the building, but when I opened the door to leave, no one was there. Dylan mentioned to me as well that when he went into the bathroom, a toilet fully flushed on it’s own. Creepsville. Add on to the fact that the only other signs of life at this park were two trailers parked nearby but both looked abandoned. More creepsville. Needless to say, we left quickly.

Our first stop was Hurricane Creek. It was a nice educational trail that had posts every 20 feet or so, explaining the different types of vegetation and how even small levels of elevation or water levels change what trees and vegetation grow where.

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What’s great about this trip is that, along the 444 mile path, you don’t just drive from one destination to the other. There is so much to see in between the stops. I took time to think about what this would have looked like as the first explorers, or what it was like even 50 years ago. I imagined this would have been a great destination for families to load up the Buick and spend a week on.

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I loved how descriptive the signs were. They didn’t just tell you what was ahead, but offered up excitement. “Whole new worlds unfold…” and sentences like this were inscribed in so many of these placards.

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The Jeff Busby site was also a popular one. It’s one of Mississippi’s highest points at a staggering…..603 feet. But it still boasted a great overlook.DSC00653.JPG

I was excited to see another stop called Pigeon Roost, because, who doesn’t like Pigeons. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down, although I did learn something so I can’t completely discount it. The site was home to a man named Folsom. From the signage, I thought maybe he owned a bunch of Passenger Pigeons (this sounds like the start of a poem; There Once Was a Man Named Folsom, Who Found Pigeons to be Wholesome). I’d assumed this collection of Passenger Pigeons was for a business he had in the area, and obviously enough, all the Pigeons are now dead and the business shut down (stupid telephones).

*I decided to do some research before posting this and I was a bit off. Here’s what Natchez Trace Travel’s site says:

Pigeon Roost Creek is a reminder of the millions of migrating passenger pigeons that once roosted in trees in this area. The species has been completely destroyed. One mile east where the Natchez Trace crossed the creek Nathaniel Folsom of New England and his Choctaw wife had a trading post before 1790. Their son, David, later operated it and accommodated travelers. When the Reverend Thomas Nixon stopped here in 1815, David’s wife prepared suitable nourishment and would have no pay. David Folsom, strong supporter of Christianity and Indian education, was elected chief of the northeast district of the Choctaw Nation in 1826.

So, it looks like it was just a places that Passenger Pigeons liked to hang out, which is too bad because in my head, I had a vision of this man with a booming Passenger Pigeon business. My story is so much cooler.

The next stop was Bynum Mounds. These were mounds created by Native Americans. I don’t really recall a whole lot, because instead of learning about the mounds, we encountered three dogs that took a liking to our car. They seemed harmless; I think they were locals that wandered around looking for tourists to hand out scraps, but since we had our dogs out, I took them over to the displays. I didn’t want them to see the other dogs and get overly excited, so I distracted them by teaching them the differences between summer and winter housing units that were constructed by the Natives, while Dylan hustled the locals out of the area.

We left soon after, and headed to Witches Dance just up the road for some lunch. According to local lore, and Legends of America, Hopewell Indians escaped oppressive Mexico and came up to the Natchez Trace area, carrying bones of their ancestors (these bones supposedly became parts of the Bynum Mounds – maybe that’s why the dogs stick around). During their journey, their leader followed the path of a medicine stick he carried and was led by a white dog along the way. During this same time, after the people settled in to their new found home, witches would gather for nighttime ceremonies and dances, and wherever they danced, grass would die and never regrow. There is a lot of mystery rooted in these stories, but they were believable enough at the time that Andrew Jackson, who traveled the Trace frequently, kept the stories in his journal.

Next stop was the Tupelo National Battlefield. This site is actually in downtown Tupelo, not off the highway like the pamphlet said. We decided to skip this due to the fact it would take us so far off the path.

At a little over the halfway point is the Natchez Trace Visitor Center. It’s the only place on the whole path that has any sort of souvenirs, which is refreshing. We stopped for a bathroom break and Dylan went in to check it out. There were more displays and a few trinkets you could purchase if need be.

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One of my favorite stops was the Confederate grave sites that marked 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers. You walk up a short winding path that leads you up a small hill, where 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers lay. No one really knows the complete story behind the 13 soldiers, but it serves as a reminder to one of the most deadly wars in American history. This area is also one of the few spots where you can walk the original Old Trace. I put myself back in time, in the shoes of soldiers and young explorers, thinking back to the conditions during the Civil War and what it would have been like during those times, walking this quiet, lonely path during a violent and changing time.

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We made a couple more small stops, at the Dogwood Valley site to see Dogwood trees, and the Donivan Slough (pronounced “slew”), before heading to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

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The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway & Jamie L. Whitten Bridge is a waterway that opens a navigable route between the Gulf of Mexico and the Tennessee River, and boasts some great scenery and picture taking opportunities to boot.

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We finished our day, heading about seven miles up the road to Tishomingo State Park. This was a winding, beautiful park that I would love to come back to and spend more time at. This was a big, sprawling park loaded with activities, a pool, hiking trails, a suspension bridge, pioneer house, and more. It was all nicely taken care of, and had some of the nicest bathrooms that we stayed at during our whole trip (something you remember while camping for a week).

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More pictures of Tishomingo to come during the next segment. Until then…

 

Natchez Trace Parkway pt. 2: Natchez State Park

We slept well in our first night in the trailer. The dogs acted as local heaters and kept us warm throughout the night. We were recommended to bring a mattress pad if we had one to compliment the one already in the trailer, but we didn’t have one, and have slept on dirt floors enough on camping trips that we figured we would be fine with the luxury of a trailer. So far, so good.

One of my favorite parts of camping is eating. I guess one of my favorite things is eating, but combine it with camping, the outdoors, hiking, smells of burning logs, cool and crisp air…it just makes food taste so good. With the built in cooler in the trailer, this made the food options expand from the usual camping food for the whole week. We started the morning with bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast tacos (a staple in TX) and hot coffee. (Did I mention this thing comes with a 4-cup coffee pot too?). Breakfast was glorious. We prepped for the drive and took off to our next stop: Natchez State Park, our last stop before starting the Parkway.

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This state park was well run, clean, and the bathrooms were warm, so I was happy. There was a cool breeze in the air but it wasn’t too cold, and wood was burning in the air so the smell was reminiscent of an October afternoon in the Minnesota countryside.

We took a hike before dinner, catching glimpses of chipmunks skirting about and seeing the boggy marshes, a precursor to our tour for the next week.

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One of our best “investments” was long chains and an anchor for the dogs. Before we only had their leashes, which meant they didn’t have much for room to roam. These chains let them explore their new surroundings each night, keeping us sane so we could prep the trailer and make dinner each night.

Next up…the actual Natchez Trace Parkway….

 

 

Wanderlust

I’ve got it folks. I’ve got the wanderlust. I think they call it post-vacation blues as well.

Whatever the term is, I’m squirming in my seat, wanting so badly to take the hubs, the dogs, and a bunch of water and snacks (and sunblock of course) and wander around somewhere I’ve never been, away from everything.

I can’t right now, so I made this instead. The photo is actually a park in my hometown, that somehow, I never knew about (the town is around 3000 people). We (the hubs and I) took the ma-in-law out for a walk with the dogs and found the path littered with frogs, which was great entertainment for us and the dogs.

Hopefully we’ll get to plan another getaway soon, even if it’s just a day trip wandering around a new park. Get out and explore before it’s too late! Enjoy not knowing where you’re going. There’s something very freeing in that feeling.

There is only one cure for wanderlust