Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October Vacation; Day 5: Heading Home

Ashley, Kaleigh, and I opted to stay an additional day since the Smokies had been opened.  We slept in a bit, at least until the sun came up, then struck out toward Clingman's Dome.  This was a short but steep hike up to the highest point in the park.  From the dome, there is a 360 degree view of the mountains that, on a clear day, is amazing.  This day had some cloud but they were burning off quickly.

After a trip to the gift shop, we actually left the park and headed to Mingo falls.  Mingo is located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  Mingo is also usually flooded with people, as it was this day.  We did not stay too log but it is always worth the stop as Mingo is a massive waterfall.

Then it was a long drive home.  We had a great trip and fortunately, our vacation was not quite over since we still had some weekend time available.

Monday, October 28, 2013

October Vacation; Day 4: Cades Cove & Abrams Falls

The trip to Cades Cove is always the earliest day.  Ashley, Kaleigh and I got up before 5am and set out for the 45 minute drive, then the 1 hour wait for the cove to open.  We were about the 5th car in line this year and the cars piled up behind us as we inched closer to sunrise.

When the gates opened, it seemed a bit early to me and the initial ride through was a little lack luster so we made a few stops at some of the sites and took our time.  We saw turkeys, and some other random wildlife and I got some decent pictures.  Despite them letting us in about 10 minutes early, it was still a great trip around the loop.

After a quick restroom break, we headed back into the cove to get to our first hike of the day.  When we about half way there we spotted a bear!  It was about as close as I have seen one in the wild, about 40 feet.  Sadly, this bear eluded a good picture but we still got to see it foraging for food and we were all extremely excited!  It was Kaleigh's first bear in the wild!

Giddly from the bear sighting, we struck out on the trail head to Abrams Falls.  This was a hike that was listed as moderate but I felt like it was pretty easy, despite it being 5 miles.  Kaleigh did not have any issues and we trotted along at a good pace, even spotting a copperhead snake right on the trail that we all nearly stepped on!

Once we arrive at the falls, we had our brunch and Kaleigh even jumped into the water for a brief period.  The falls was really nice and we ended up spending quite a bit of time there before hiking back.  It turned out to be a great day, it is hard to beat bears and waterfalls!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October Vacation; Day 3: Smokies!

Bright and early, Ashley, Kaleigh, and I were in the Smokey Mountains!  We were up prior to the sun and in the woods waiting for the park to open.  We were actually there before they opened, waiting for the rangers to open the gates to the Motor Nature Trail so we could get to our hike.

With the park being closed for over two weeks, we were greeted with some rare treats.  Mushrooms were all over the place on the Grotto Falls trail.  Right at the beginning we found a tree covered in the brightly colored fungus.  We discussed that by the end of the day it was likely that most of the mushrooms would be trampled and dead.  Mushrooms are fragile and most people are awful.

We got to Grotto before the crowds and Kaleigh found 4 salamanders behind the falls.  Grotto is a great falls for kids since it is not a difficult hike and you can go behind the falls.  The water comes down with a surprising force so people should not stand directly under the water though.  On the hike back, Kaleigh was attacked by yellow-jackets.  One got inside her shirt and one in her hair.  She ended up with 5 stings and a few minutes of tears.  She is a tough kid and we decided it was not going to ruin our hikes for the day.

After Grotto, we grabbed a little lunch and headed to Laurel Falls.  This is about the most family friendly hike in the park as it is paved and only about a mile.  The falls in nice, despite the crowds.  We were able to find our way to the bottom of the falls and get away from the crowds a bit, which was nice.  The foliage was not quite at peak yet in the Smokies but we were still thrilled to be there.  No woods should ever be closed on the word of any government.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October Vacation; Day 2: 6 Waterfalls, 8 miles, dinner, and a long drive!

Ashley, Kaleigh, and I woke up in Hendersonville North Carolina early, before the sun was up. We struck out toward Dupont State Forest for our first hike. I had read that the hikes were fairly easy and there were a number of nice waterfalls to see.

This was an understatement. Although we hiking about 4 miles, it was very easy going, too easy for Ashley and I but perfect beginning of a day for the legs of a 6 year old. The first leg of the hike was to Hooker Falls. When we arrived, I really thought this might be the most impressive falls of the day. It was quite a spectical. It was a good 30 foot drop but was extreamly wide and photogenic.

Next up was Triple Falls. For whatever reason, I had not read much about Triple Falls so I was not expecting much. When we saw it we were blown away. This is easily in the upper echelons of waterfalls I have seen in my life. It was a magnificent three tiered waterfall that was massive in size. In fact, there was even a spot where you can hike down to a rocky area at the 2nd part of the falls. We spent a fair amount of time climbing rocks and just enjoying the area before heading back to the trail.

High Falls was next on the list. It was an extremely tall falls that you can hike to the very bottom and stand in the spray. Kaleigh and I climbed some rocks and played around a bit before heading out. We had other hikes to do and as the morning wore on, people started to pour onto the trails.

After a short drive and a couple of big scores at local thrift stores, we headed into the Pisgah National Forest. With the government shutdown, we did not want to risk driving long distances of forest roads with the risk of a closure deep into the woods so we did a couple of the more common spots for day hikes. First up was Looking Glass Falls. Looking Glass is one of the most photographed falls on the east coast and it was clear why. It was very iconic and photogenic. Kaleigh was excited and broke out her camera and climb onto the rocks with me to take photos. She and I collaborated for about 30 minutes taking all sorts of pictures. It was fun to see her get excited about something that many kids her age do not care about.

A couple of miles down the road was Moore Cove Falls. It was about a 1 mile hike into the falls and although the water was not gushing over the top, we were able to get behind the falls which made it worth the trip. Kaleigh and I talked about the unique Eco-systems that occur at the base of waterfalls and even climbed to the top. It was a tough climb for her little legs but she made it without issue.

Just further down the Blue Ridge Parkway we stopped at what would be our final hike of the day, Graveyard Fields. This hike was several miles round trip and much of it was walked through a field that has never recovered from a massive clear cut and forest fire in the early and mid 1900's. It was an extremely nice hike, the foliage was gorgeous and the terrain was unique with surrounding mountain dipping into a valley. We arrive at the last falls of the day, Upper Falls. All three of us climbed a cascading rock formation to be rewarded with another great falls behind it. Together, we climbed up the falls and sat right next to the water and had a nice snack of vegan jerky and dried mango.

The sun was beginning to go down and we headed to Asheville for dinner and a hotel. Once we arrived, I checked the Great Smokey Mountains National Park new feed and was greeted with the exciting information that they were going to be open the following day at noon after reaching a deal with the federal government! Thrilled, we had dinner at Rosetta's Kitchen, a brief family meeting, and decided to head to the Smokies that night. Kaleigh slept most of the way there and we got into a hotel fairly late. We settled in quick and planned for another early rise, we were now in the Smokies!

Monday, October 21, 2013

October Vacation; Day 1: Chimney Rock and a Cabbage Patch

Ashley, Kaleigh, and I took our first family vacation since living together.  Ashley and I were taking our annual trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the peak of foliage season.  This year we thought we would take Kaleigh since she has been doing some of our summer hikes with us as well as running in her Kilometer Kids program.  Unfortunately, the government shutdown led to the Smoky Mountains National Park being closed down.

Our back up plan was to head to south-western North Carolina and do a number of day hikes to waterfalls.  Our first day was met with the drive to the mountains and a trip to Chimney Rock State Park.  We climbed about 600 stairs to the top and had a nice view.  Sadly, on the way up to one of the overlooks, Kaleigh fell and skinned both knees and her arm.  She was pretty tough about it and we went on hiking.

After leaving the park we headed back to a hotel in Hendersonville.  We passed a number of pick your own pumpkin and apples places.  One of the spots we saw even had pick your own lettuce and tomatoes.  We stopped and one of the workers took the three of us out into the cabbage patch and let Kaleigh pick her own cabbage!  She was thrilled as cabbage is one of her favorites.

It was a pretty great first day of vacation, even if we were missing the Smokies.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cooking with Kaleigh; Part 11: Rice Crispy Treats (Halloween Style)

I got a chance to have a nice evening with Kaleigh last night.  I picked her up from school and we went to the store to get some nice things for dinner.  WE ended up making stroganoff and asparagus with garlic.  Ashley was at work until nearly Kaleigh's bedtime so we made enough for her to eat when she got home.  We even grabbed some nice flowers for the kitchen table.

After Kaleigh and I returned from the store we decided to make some halloween themed rice crispy treats.  Kaleigh even thought it would be fun to make a Cooking with Kaleigh video for the snacks!

We used some green food coloring to get a nice halloween background and then added some melted chocolate and other candies to make some pretty silly/cool designs.  We had a lot of fun making these and Kaleigh got really wound up after eating a couple!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

D&D B-Day for Nate!

Recently, Nate (of crack the plates fame) had a birthday!  Traditionally he and Adrienne had flamboyant and dramatic theme birthday parties with lots of folks and decorations for days.  This year, Nate wanted to cool it down a bit.  He wanted a Dungeons and Dragons birthday party.

Not so much as a theme but an activity.  I was asked to DM a day long adventure for Nate and his close close friends.  I agreed but as the date got closer, I was doubting my ability to pull it off.  It has been a long time since I created a game and I did not want Nate's birthday to be a let down.

There were plates of food about through the day and we ate as we played.  Eight hours later, everyone had died and the "party" was about to begin.  Adrienne had gotten a cake from the local Dulce Vegan that was amazing.  Everyone was quite floored by the outstanding design.

It turned out to be a fun day and well worth the effort.  I hope Nate had as much fun on his birthday as I did!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kilometer Kids!

Since moving in, Kaleigh has started a new school as well as a new after school program.  The school seems to be working out well enough.  It has taken her awhile to adjust to the after school program at the gym as apposed to the typical daycare.

One of the things she has begun doing at the gym is Kilometer Kids.  It is a running program that the kids can get involved in.  They train at the gym and then go to local parks and hiking areas to complete the actual runs.  Kaleigh has really enjoyed it and I was able to go to her first run!

She ran a mile in Grant Park here in Atlanta.  She had so much fun and finished well.  It was a little difficult to get a good picture of her and when the race was over, she was a little embarrassed to have me taking her picture with all her friends around.  I remember those days, just from the other side.