Mount Tacoma | 2 Days in Mount Rainier National Park

Just looking through the photos for this post is making me want to go back pretty badly. The worst part? I know that we have a busy summer ahead of us and probably won’t make this happen. I feel I need to admit to myself that Mount Tacoma (Mt. Rainier) and I were just a summer fling. There could have been something great between us, but we both knew we were moving in different directions (okay, Mount Tacoma isn’t exactly leaving). I’m really, really glad we met, and our time together really was great.

mount tacoma/mount rainier

Like I’ve said, I really did love/thoroughly enjoy/do highly recommend all the other parts of the road trip that we took last August, including our Portland, Hood River, and Bend time and our Oregon Coast time. But the two days that we spent in Mt Rainier National Park easily win.

mount tacoma/mount rainier

We had the most gorgeous day for our “long” hike, as you’ll see in the photos. After eight days of campfire bans in state parks, the two nights/mornings with campfires seemed entirely too fun. Camping mid-week meant we even got to enjoy a ranger-led storytelling program, something that we haven’t done before. Everything about these two days was perfect within our little worlds.

mount tacoma/mount rainier

Our hike, the ever-popular and easily accessible Skyline Trail, might be on the beaten path, but was nevertheless lovely. So lovely, in fact, that it actually brought me to tears at one point. I just had to cry at how beautiful everything was and how happy I was in that moment. I know you’re assuming I’m a softy right now, and you’re maybe not entirely wrong, but this sort of thing doesn’t happen that often to me. Clear little streams with tiny wildflowers in the foreground and that towering, glacier-covered Mount Tacoma in the background. It’s hard not to feel blessed beyond measure when you’re placed in this setting. (I didn’t ask the twelve-year-olds who were forced to hike this with their parents, ha).

Ay, okay, I’ll stop my blabbing and leave you with our photos for a bit.

skyline trail, mount rainier national park, mount tacoma

skyline hike mt tacoma/mt rainier national park

skyline hike mt tacoma/mt rainier national park

skyline hike mt tacoma/mt rainier national park

skyline hike mt tacoma/mt rainier national park

As you’ll notice, I look like a gomer person who is actually hiking while we’re hiking. Have you read this article about beauty/travel yet? And yep, I guess I do post photos of myself relatively often, huh?

Mount Tacoma | 2 Days in Mount Rainier National Park

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier

After hike one, we spent some time stopping at overviews, visiting waterfalls, and reading at the campsite before prepping our last campsite meal for the trip.

waterfall near mt tacoma

campsite food mt tacoma mt rainier

Like I said, I know that for the foreseeable future there will be no more Mount Tacoma in my life. But golly, even the thought of being able to return later in life makes me giddy. (I do seriously hope that there are glaciers galore remaining). Until we meet again…

skyline hike mt tacoma mt rainier



Camping the Oregon Coast Part | Sand Dunes, Rolling Waves, and Lots of Seafood

oregon coast short hikeSometimes I’m still awed at how new places can still feel so wonderful and make me feel so small, particularly after I have researched the places I am visiting in depth during the planning stages. I love poring over photos; planning is fun, and neither of these take the wonder out of the actual travel for me. Ahh, vacation, I miss you.

I loved our time in Portland, Hood River, and Bend. But because of forest fires, voracious hunger interest in eating as many things in Portland as possible, and wanting to simply enjoy the company of Leah without rushing around, we didn’t hike too much, even though we spent plenty of time outdoors around campsites and picnic tables.

After leaving Bend and reaching the coast, our trip seemed to open up a little, allowing more time for hikes, morning beach coffee and even beach yoga! Yeah, I know, I’m totally that person you saw while on your vacation.

oregon covered bridge

Our first stop was near Florence, Oregon. We stayed in Jessie M Honeyman Memorial State Park. The campgrounds here are large, and while that means your campsite might not be completely isolated, we still really enjoyed it and found a nice site easily. Trees that large between your site and your neighbors’ tend to help.

campsite and tent

coffeemaker on campsite stove

Our first “real” hike of the trip was the delightful John Dellenbeck Dunes Trail. I still, for the life of me, cannot figure out how there was no one hiking this but us. Well, on the way back, we did see one other hiker, but the dunes were spectacular, and we had the ocean all to our selves at the midway point. For a girl who has never been to the world’s great deserts, I was enamored. If I had known what was in store, I might have packed some Moroccan tea, desserts, and had a real, proper desert picnic. 🙂

The trail starts out as pretty unassuming. You’re still on dunes from the get go, but the vegetation has grown in.

John dellenbeck trail

Then, you reach the expanse.

John Dellenback Dunes Trail Oregon

And it gets just a little more surreal.

John Dellenback Dunes Trail Oregon

John Dellenback Dunes Trail Oregon

John Dellenback Dunes Trail Oregon

John Dellenback Dunes Trail Oregon

sand dunes

plant in sand

man walking on sand dunes trail

Then you reach vegetation again.

vine tunnel on sand dunes

Here’s that ocean we had to ourselves.

John Dellenback Dunes Trail Oregon

At this point, we snacked, watched birds, and read for a bit before heading back. The afternoon winds had picked up, making it harder to see the tracks we’d left in the morning. Thankfully, the trail is marked with posts throughout, so our return trip didn’t end with getting lost in the dunes. As I said, for someone who hasn’t had much desert exposure, this hike felt otherworldly. Loved it!

From here, we hiked and camped our way up the coast, stopping at bakeries, craft breweries, and all roadside attractions. We hiked short stints at Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout State Park, and Cape Meares. We saw the Haystack Rock plus a couple other haystack rocks. We stopped for seafood lunches and made purchases at fish shops for campfire/campsite meals. Every lookout seemed to be a must-stop. And it was hard to put the camera away…

oregon coast

oregon coast

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

We all have hiking skirts, right?

oregon coast camping trip meals

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip

bird with baby birds

oregon coast camping trip

oregon coast camping trip crabcakes

berries in pancakes

oregon coast camping trip buoy brewing

oregon coast camping trip mate at beach

After a few days of coastal living, we wandered back inland. We didn’t reach our last stop of the trip until just after sunset, so we were surprised in the morning to see this giant waiting for us.

mount rainier mount tacoma

But I’ll save this beauty for another post. As always, thanks for reading.


Here’s a list of the places we visited along the way and would recommend to others for camping, eating, imbibing, or stocking up on interesting foodstuffs.


Restaurants/good places to buy fun food

Stops for Beer Pilgrims

Two Days in the North Cascades | Weekend Camping and Hiking Trip

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Before we packed our rental car full of cut-rate camping gear, we read that people referred to the North Cascades National Park as the “Alps of North America”. Oh, I had a laugh. First of all, I was skeptical, because any place/thing that has to use another to explain itself always seems to be grasping.

Then we went. And it does have those turquoise lakes that so enchanted me as a study-abroad-Euro-trip-kid. And it has those valleys filled with waterfalls. And it has those snow-capped peaks. It has amazing alpine meadows. I see the similarities. Still, I hesitate to call it the “Alps of North America” because we needn’t refer to everything in the “new world” according to their closest “old world” comparison. Let the North Cascades be their own thing. They merit that.

I squealed with glee a couple times during our first 7ish mile hike. (We hiked Heather-Maple Pass, which is actually located just outside the park).

north cascades heather maple pass

north cascades heather maple pass

north cascades heather maple pass

north cascades heather maple pass

north cascades heather maple pass

north cascades national park trip

north cascades

north cascades

north cascades

I had an ambitious two-day hiking itinerary planned for us. We were to hike 12 miles on back to back days. An ankle roll got in the way, but we still logged about 12 on day one and another mile or so on day two. The fact that we didn’t get my top-pick hike in combined with the fact that our camera battery was not charged before we left means I’m itching to get back. Unfortunately, our fall is already filling up (I’ve now got two job schedules to balance, am heading to SoDak for some weddings, hope to make it to Wisconsin sometime, Jordan’s got his own work and school scheduling conflicts, and I am trying to weasel in a trip to Victoria when my in-laws visit). Soon there will be snow there, and frankly, our travel and weekend trip budget could probably use a bit of a recovery period after we get back from South Dakota. Alas, next late spring/summer might be our next chance to visit.

Still, we made use of our time, reading glacier-fueled riverside, visiting the Cascadian Farms organic fields for an ice cream and berry stop, shopping at the Mazama Store, and eating some less-than-healthy, but delicious barbeque in Marblemount.

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cascadian farms

ice cream at cascadian farms

This park, my friends, is free to visit and relatively un-visited compared to the likes of Yellowstone and Yosemite. Hard for me to understand when it’s this beautiful.

Until we meet again, North Cascades National Park, until we meet again.

San Francisco | An Essay from a First-Timer

You read that right. An essay. Not a photo essay. An honest-to-god, I-really-wrote-paragraph-after-paragraph essay. Strange for me, yet cathartic.

I frankly am unsure what has happened to my blogger self. Maybe I went a little too deep into the blog world during our time in South America. Maybe that had absolutely nothing to do with it. Maybe I was just a little too tired of playing tourist. (I know, I can barely believe that I’m saying it myself). I’m not sure that’s it exactly. Actually, I’m sure it’s not. I was equally as excited to travel to California–super, super excited, in fact, but I just wasn’t as motivated to document it all.

It’s not that I wanted to “keep it to myself.” I certainly loved my time, will cherish until the day I can cherish no more. I’m still trying to ascertain what exactly caused my waning love for capturing and sharing life on camera. The camera isn’t the only issue. While blogging is usually something that I am itching to do, lately, it simply hasn’t felt that way.

Today, for the first day in quite some time, I finally really feel like sharing what I’ve been up to in the last few months. Sadly, now, when I look back at the photos (the few I took), I wish I had pushed myself a bit more. I mean, seriously, look at my only two photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. And we even walked to its midpoint.

All this to say, despite my photos and my very delayed post, our time in California this past December was, as I said, truly time I cherish. And unlike most of my posts, I will try to express my experience through my words, rather than my photos.

First, it was unexpected–a trip that I didn’t have to plan, but simply got to tag along for. Jordan was offered a serendipitous trip to a conference in San Francisco and I, a free trip down. Since we had basically just arrived in Vancouver, I had no pre-arranged job, and the holidays were coming, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time in SF, see some family, and explore just a few of the amazing things that the six states of California have to offer.

We drove down the coast at about 55 mph with our friend in her VW van. We listened to music, talked of everything and anything, and took in the landscapes. When hunger, sleep, or curiosity got the best of us we stopped, eating some expensive, pretentious, dressed-up-as-working class, oh-so-delicious veggie burgers in Portland (Should “working class” really ever be a “concept” for a restaurant? As a rural, Middle America-raised person, this just seems crazy. But it really was good), marionberry waffles in Ashland, and coffee with Leah in Redding. Late at night, we rolled into Berkeley. Our friend’s brother and his girlfriend came out of the apartment to meet us. We spent the night around their kitchen table, chatting, sipping Corona’s, exchanging opinions and seeking recommendations. Technically, all this part was supposed to be the preamble to our trip, but I must admit to you that all of it, even the strange, can’t-take-a-hint, Kurt Vonnegut worshiper working overnight at the Shakespeare-themed hotel, means so much more than a preamble. It set the stage, but was an adventure in its own right.

And then I boarded the commuter train from Berkeley to San Francisco.

I don’t know exactly how it happened. I don’t know how quickly it happened. But it happened. What I do know is that I’m not alone. That city got me. Got me good.

The architecture, the hills, the bakeries, the restaurants, the parks, the street art, that Chinatown, the dim sum, the seafood, the coffee, the Beats’ history. It’s all there surrounded by beautiful bay scenery. I can’t say I’m going to move there, but I can say I have every intention of being a serial visitor. I spent the better part of entire day visiting bakeries, sampling sourdoughs, and indulging in bread puddings, lattes, and just-because books. I felt completely overwhelmed and unprepared for the barrage of steamed pork buns and fried tofu. I spent an hour perusing a certain bookstore and even had time to read poetry in the corner of it. I had an old-school Italian latte. I learned first-hand who Jet Martinez is (that’s all you, Em). And I was overjoyed at the Anchor Steam, Lagunitas, and Russian Rivers that I found on menus.

All of this was made better by being surrounded by people we know. People we like. People we love. After spending the previous four months meeting new people, struggling to communicate in less-than-less-than-perfect Spanish, and forcing myself to continually connect with strangers, seeing some of our old friends from Montreal and especially Jordan’s sister, Emilee, and her fiancé, felt, well, simply put: nice. Really, really nice. And easy.

While the others spent the time at the conference, Emilee, Max, and I walked and explored. We did things that tourists do and ate and drank thinks that tourists eat and drink. There are usually decent reasons these things became touristy, after all. Of course, I can’t speak for either of them because they are the ones who spent time with the crazy lady who happy-kicked when she saw the bookstore and forced them asked them if they wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of the Beats for just a bit the better part of an afternoon. I can, however, say for myself that I really enjoyed learning from their experiences, hearing their stories, and getting to know them better.  I’d only met Max once before and truthfully, Emilee and I admitted to each other that this trip was probably the most time we’d ever spent together.


I haven’t been to all that many places, but I’ve been to a enough to know how I generally react to a new place. I rarely meet a city that I can’t convince myself to like. By now, I have learned how to make the best of whatever opportunity to see a new place I’ve been given. You give me one hour with the good ol’ Internet before my visit, and I’ll find my niche within the city. Rarely, though, after just a short visit, have I liked a city as much as I liked San Francisco. Sure, you can tell me it’s just the fact that I was with people I knew (I know it didn’t hurt) or the time or year (actually super rainy the whole time). But I think that it has more to do with the city’s “otherness.”

Like I said, I usually do a solid job of researching before I travel to a place (there have been exceptions to this, of course, but ask the husband, who will confirm that I made an itinerary for when I visited him for the day in Pierre, South Dakota). I do this so that I don’t miss out on the “otherness” that a city has to offer. I want to see what makes a place what it is and what is special (a quaint, but very appropriate word) about it. The thing about San Francisco is that you really don’t have to look. Yep, I did touristy things, I sought out of few things. But really, San Francisco is an entire city of itself. It feels distinctly itself. I didn’t mind not having every hour or every day planned while there, because no matter what we did, it would feel like San Francisco. I can’t say that I feel this way in most cities, unless they are set in a very unique natural environment (e.g. Vancouver or Tucson would simply not be as cool without their scenery. I’m not saying these cities do not have many unique qualities, just maybe a little less sense of it than San Francisco from the point of a visitor).

I liked that city-is-the-site feeling.

The city is full. Of everything you’d want from a city (except maybe affordable housing, I suppose). It has culture, history, cuisine, the water. There’s a lot that the city of San Francisco can teach you, that much is obvious. It’ll challenge and thrill you if you want it to, but somehow, it also put me at ease.

I had a feeling I’d return on more than one occasion, so I had zero qualms about spending a night ordering in and watching Escape from Alcatraz. Even if I had, being able to order great food and watching a movie in a historical Haight-Ashbury apartment would certainly have qualifed as time well spent.

In the midst of SF movie night, I realized that I, personally, felt confident while in this city. I was only there temporarily and was under no obligation to learn everything about the city in order to assimilate and make it feel like a home. I took the bus, navigated as needed. When I was confused or lost, I asked for help. I was (and still am) in amazement about how much easier being a tourist is within your own country.* For one, there’s a common language. Secondly, I forgave myself for not knowing everything to know about the place, something I had rarely allowed myself as a US-er living outside the country (post for another day).

This felt good.


The day that we left, Emilee and I headed to a grocery store, loaded up on bread, cheeses, veggies and salads. We made our way just across the bay to the Marin Headlands. Picnicking with a view of the city that just left me feeling so fulfilled in such a short period of time seemed to be the very definition of bittersweet. The city carried on without me. It remained unchanged; I did not. It put me back at personal ease–a place I hadn’t been in quite some time.

The bittersweet feelings quickly subsided when I realized I still felt just as happy, just as curious, and just as forgiving of myself as I did that morning. And I was already outside the city. Yeah, I was still technically on vacation, so that made it easier. But no one has told me that this had to stop when my vacation does. This little realization gave me a new outlook on the next stage of my life–the Vancouver Stage, if you will.

Okay, I live here. Okay, I don’t want people to see me as the ignorant resident hailing from south of the border. I do want to learn more about the country, the province, the city. While I will continue to make an effort to learn about the place I’m currently calling home, I refuse to beat myself up for not immediately knowing the name and location of every city in BC or being able to tell you the exact number of MPs (308, though, I know now) in the House of Commons. Letting myself off the hook, just even this little bit, makes me much happier about what I’ll be learning. Much more likely to appreciate stumbling upon the things that make my new home unique.

Our picnic that day was lovely. It was simple and peaceful. In that moment, I was surprised and deeply glad to have found a bit of self-forgiveness that I didn’t even know I’d so badly needed.  With my hair flapping in the wind and a mouthful of brie, I felt happier. And only half of that was due to the mouthful of brie.

Below are the few images I captured from our days spent in San Francisco. They tell only a smidgen of the story.

*This seems like the kind of thing you can only appreciate once you’ve left it.

I Fell for Knoxville. Here’s How You Can, Too! | A Weekender’s Guide to Knoxville, Tennessee

When you move, people tend to ask about where you’ve lived before.

For us, this means Tennessee comes up in conversation often enough. And then people give us this, Oh, really, you actually liked living in Tennesssee? attitude. And then we tell them what’s for.*

I can’t believe I keep finding people who are skeptical of Tennessee’s charms. I love Knoxville, and I’m itching to get back there some day, month, or year soon. I miss my peeps, want to return to my old haunts, and I still have cravings for Barley’s pizza on a semi-regular basis.

A while back, one of my cousins mentioned that she might go to Knoxville for a weekend and wanted to know if I had any suggestions. I started writing just a couple things and before I knew it, Knoxville had taken up an entire page. I also had so much fun writing it, remembering our hiking trips, strolls through the Farmers Market, and free bluegrass concerts. I think she was probably a bit weirded out when she saw that I’d written an entire list of recommendations. I never got a reply back. Come to think of it, I should probably creep on her to see if she even went.

A couple months later, I needed a writing sample. I chose to tweak the recommendations I’d already typed into a mini-guide to Knoxville. On my hard drive this little post stayed.

Just this week, I read a mention of Knoxville in Nat Geo Traveler (in the editor’s note) and started reminiscing. And then I saw via Facebook that my high school English teacher was traveling to Knoxville and Sevier County. She never asked me for recommendations, but I couldn’t stop myself from sharing.

Oh, how even the mention of Knoxville seems to make me gush!

That FB interaction reminded me about this travel itinerary I’d squirreled away. It seemed like an odd thing to keep hidden when it might be of interest to someone and I’d already written it.

So, please, travel to this scruffy, lovable city. Eat well, drink well, take in some music, take in some mountain views. And then we’ll see if you’re still skeptical that I love Tennessee.

Downtown Knoxville in the Fall
Downtown Knoxville in the Fall

A Weekenders Guide to Knoxville, Tennessee

Nestled between the tourist destinations of Asheville, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, Knoxville is one of Middle America’s best-kept secrets. Due to its close proximity to some of the United States’ best scenery and hotspots for outdoor activities, a vibrant local culture and history, and a revived downtown core, Knoxville appeals to nearly any type of traveler. Although it would be worth stopping in for the day, the city and region merit at least a weekend of your time. The following itinerary will help you fit in as much as possible while still giving you enough time to soak in a little bit of the city’s subdued Southern charm.

Fountain Park at World's Fair Park
Fountain Park at World’s Fair Park

Friday Evening

Arrive Friday evening, check into the hotel, and head out for a glimpse of what Knoxville has to offer. Start in Market Square, the heart of the city. The square is lined with unique restaurants and boutiques. For a casual, but delicious meal, Knoxvillians flock to Tomato Head. For
traditional and award-winning Southern fare, opt for Tupelo Honey, a new addition to the city. What is found in Market Square varies greatly from one week to the next. It is home to the Dogwood Arts Festival, various street performances, a summer concert series, the International
Biscuit Festival, Bob Dylan’s birthday celebration, free performances of Shakespeare classics, an early autumn outdoor movie series, the city Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and a public New Year’s Eve celebration. Find a free bench and spend some time people watching. For
more information on what’s happening in Market Square, check the Market Square District website.

One of many offerings at the International Biscuit Festival
One of many offerings at the International Biscuit Festival

For pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks, seek out the Peter Kern Library bar, located in the Oliver Hotel. Patrons having trouble spotting the speakeasy from the lobby can ask the concierge for directions. The bar offers signature cocktails inspired by literary works. Book nerds can even order based on Dewey Decimal classification.

On the first Friday of every month, the downtown and Old City neighborhoods come alive with a celebration of local art and culture for “First Friday.” Art galleries, many of which are found on the 100-Block of South Gay Street, stay open late into the evening, host meet-the-artist events, and offer free hors d’oeuvres and wine to gallery hoppers. Look for the mobile miniature art gallery, which has been known to serve a bit of moonshine from time to time.

Gallery-hopping on First Friday
Gallery-hopping on First Friday


Saturday morning pancakes at the Plaid Apron
Saturday morning pancakes at the Plaid Apron

Consider waking up early and driving past the UT Campus to Sequoyah Hills, the elegant West Knoxville neighborhood filled with historic homes and dogwood and azalea trees. While there, join the walkers and joggers for a stroll along the riverside greenway, stretching along the verdant Sequoyah Hills Park. For breakfast or brunch, head to the Plaid Apron, a delicious farm-to-table restaurant started by a renegade chef from the famous Blackberry Farms.

A River View from Sequoyah Hills Park
A River View from Sequoyah Hills Park

The Market Square Farmers Market officially runs from 10 AM to 2 PM, but can linger a bit later. The market draws much more than just produce. Shoppers can find baked goods, local crafts (even homespun yarn!), and many street performers, often with a heavy emphasis on traditional and contemporary bluegrass music. The market plays host to several local food vendors, meaning you can try the local celebrity chef Bruce Bogartz’s famous biscuits or cobbler without paying the restaurant prices. On a hot day, be sure to stop by the Cruze Dairy Farm truck for some locally made ice cream.
Fall produce at Knoxville Farmers Market

Use the rest of the afternoon to explore downtown, the Old City, and the site of the 1982 World’s Fair, which are connected and easily accessible on foot. Downtown and the Old City offer charming architecture, a small town feeling, and a peek at local culture through the East Tennessee History Museum and the Knoxville Art Museum.
When in need of a break, Knoxville offers a little something for everyone. Oenophiles may want to stop in at the Blue Slip Winery for a free wine tasting. Coffee drinkers should make a stop at Old City Java, a community coffee shop that regularly finds its way onto lists of the nation’s top coffee shops. Beer connoisseurs may wish to take respite at Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern (a nod to former Knoxville resident and author Cormac McCarthy), the Casual Pint, or the Downtown Grill & Brewery.

Iced Latte from Old City Java
Cheese board from Crown and Goose Pub
Cheese board from Crown and Goose Pub

Have dinner on the Tennessee River at Calhoun’s before heading to either the Bijou Theatre or the Tennessee Theatre, both of which are architectural and historical gems,  or a comedy show, a traveling Broadway musical, or a musical performance. If still feeling lively or in need of a snack after the show, head back down to the Old City to visit Boyd’s Jig & Reel to sip scotch or beer from a carefully curated menu and listen to live Irish and Scottish music. The Crown and Goose pub is a nice alternative as well.


After grabbing breakfast at Pete’s Diner, cross the street to Just Ripe to stock up on  some picnic lunches for the day before escaping to the mountains for which Eastern Tennessee is known. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free, which comes as a blessing and a curse. Unless park visitors are willing to put some hiking time in, they should not expect to be secluded in the wilderness. The park can be accessed two ways. Those traveling with kids might want to go through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge to explore some of the amusement park-like attractions. Those looking for a more peaceful and bucolic mountain experience should access the park via Townsend and Alcoa Highway.

Charlie’s Bunion Hike, GSMNP

Before going, choose between an ambitious agenda, focusing on several highlights of the park, or a nice day hike. If opting to see as much of the park as possible in one day, head straight for the Cades Cove driving loop, doing this in the morning to avoid the afternoon crowds. Expect to see several horses, deer, and maybe some turkey among the mountain scenery. After touring Cades Cove, continue on to Clingmans Dome (not open during winter months) to reach the highest point in the park. There, visitors can hike a quick mile from the parking area to the view point for a spectacular panoramic view. For those who prefer a day hike, summiting Mt. LeConte, which takes approximately 6 hours round trip, is worth the effort. The lodge at the top offers water refills and hot chocolate. For shorter day hikes, consult the local hiking guide Hiking in the Smokys or the National Park Website.

View from Mt. LeConte, GSMNP

Return to Knoxville to clean up after a day of hiking and grab one last bite to eat or continue on to the next destination directly from the park.


*That’s East Tennessean for we set them straight.

11 Things People Say When They Learn I’m from Wisconsin

This summer I had the pleasure of spending one month in my home state of Wisconsin. This is where I’ll always “be from.”

lake chetek kayak wisconsin

But for the rest of the last 11 years of my life, excepting a few holidays here and there, I’ve been somewhere outside the state. I don’t know what it’s like for people from elsewhere, but when traveling or living outside of the Midwest and I say I from Wisconsin, the reactions are almost always limited to the following. 

1. Oh. Followed by a blank stare. This typically comes from two groups of people.

Group one is the group that doesn’t care to follow up. Expect this from East or West Coasters who consider the rest of us fly-over territory. Don’t get me started on how incredibly annoying their condescending I-never-needed-to-know-much-about-your-state ohs can really be. This is the worst.

The second “oh” group are those people who simply don’t know anything about it. And don’t care to learn or get into a discussion at the moment.

2. That’s in the north, right?


In my experience, this is often uttered by Canadians who have typically made fun of how bad my fellow “Americans” are at geography. Sure. Wisconsin’s “in the north, right?” Just like New Brunswick is, like, in the east, right? Sure, I’m happy that they’re at least in the right geographic ball park and they did express more interest than the person from Providence, Rhode Island, who didn’t care enough to clarify.  But that’s probably just them being “Canada-nice.”*

If they’re from a different continent and haven’t just made fun of everyone in the US for being dumber than everyone in their more-evolved (yet currently Harper-run) paradise, I cut them some slack. And am simply happy they care enough to pinpoint it. And then do confirm that it snows a lot.

Numbers 3-8 usually come from people who have a little bit of background about the state. This tells you what the state is known for.

3. You’re a cheesehead!

DSC_0865If someone says, “Oh, you’re a cheesehead,” they could be simply referring to anyone from the state, or more specifically, the fact that I’m likely a Packers fan. Most of us are. I like to say I’m a Packers fan by birth. I haven’t strayed, except for one year when I supported both the Steelers and the Packers. My grandmother was upset with me, and when I decided to put an end to my Steelers fling, she welcomed me like a prodigal daughter. We did, sadly, lose one of my sisters to the Patriots during the Bledsoe years. She’s never returned. Prayers are welcome on her behalf.

4. The Dairy State!

deep fried cheese curds colby wisconsinYes, we produce a lot of milk and cheese. I maybe only lived on that dairy farm for the first ten years of my life, but much of my family members were also dairy farmers. I’m proud of this one. And, yes, I do have to often confess that I eat more cheese than I ought to. Sometimes it’s even—can you believe it?—fried!


5. Beer Comments

new glarus brewery tasting glassesYes, there are a lot of breweries. And consumption levels are high. Often, people continue on to tell me “Yeah, they make a lot, but it’s all gross commercial beer.” I don’t really like Pabst (sorry, hipsters) or Old Milwaukee that much, either. But there’s a lot more offered at this point. I will sip on that New Glarus fruity Serendipity beer or Great Dane Emerald Isle Stout. Also, I hate when people assume that my being from Wisconsin means I want to do a keg stand. I don’t. I never did.

6. That ’70s Show!

193px-That_'70s_Show_logoThat ’70s Show logo“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Hello, Wisconsin!” has been screamed in my face countless times in several different countries. Still, the show was funny and so many cultural references seemed to be spot on. At least we can follow this up with a conversation about how funny Fez was or Ashton Kutcher’s career. Not the best, but not the worst.

7. That’s where Frank Lloyd Wright is from!

fallingwater-108-480x640I’ll take that, too. Being known as the home to one of the most intriguing architects of the last century is not bad at all. Review a couple life facts before traveling, just in case someone springs this one on you.

8. Wiscahhhhhsin!

The thing is, they didn’t hear the Wisconsin in my accent at all until they knew where I was from. I do not deny that we do have accents (especially after being away and then returning), but if someone had thought he had so clearly pegged my accent, why was he asking me where I was from in the first place? And beyond that, I spent 17.5 years in the state and now have spent 11.5 outside of it. My accent is a bit watered down. I do not say Wiscahhhsin. And if I don’t, they shouldn’t either.

9. I love Wisconsin!

lake chetek kayaking, wisconsinOh, bless these people. They have visited the state as tourists. They maybe have cousins or grandparents there. They have been in Madison on Halloween, gone sailing in Door County, tchotchke shopping in the Dells, or fishing Up North. I love it, too.



10. Ah! Cool, I’m from Minnesota/Iowa/Michigan/Illinois!

july corn wisconsinWe might be rivalries within the Midwest, but when find ourselves in Québec or Argentina together, we bond over all things Midwest. Think euchre, puppy chow, summer sweet corn, and the hilarity that is the Jell-O salad.



11. Me, too!
IMG_2164 (3)And then we hug like long-lost sisters and brothers and rejoice about all things Wisconsin. Because people from Wisconsin are so friendly. Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but it’s usually a pretty cool surprise, and there is an instant understanding between us. Even if there’s no hug, there is still talk about what part of the state we’re from and how interesting it is to meet wherever we find ourselves. There is, of course, always an exception. You will, maybe once in 11 years of travel/living outside the state, bump into some guy who acts like a d-bag, doesn’t care that you share a home state, and seems to only wants to talk about how much he agrees with everything Ayn Rand writes.**


Okay, Wisconsinites! What am I missing? How do people react to you when they learn where you’re from?

Others are allowed to weigh in on the conversation, too. What do people always say to you when you tell them where you’re from?


*Canadians often tell me that “everyone always says Canadians are nice.” Mostly, I hear Canadians talking about how nice they are. I’m pretty sure northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba are comparable in the nice department. I do not usually mention this in conversation, however. Because that wouldn’t be very “Midwest-nice” of me.

**Oh, purely hypothetical, I assure you. He was a hypothetical jerk. Not because he reads and likes Ayn Rand, but because he hypothetically asks you why you haven’t more, hears your answer of simply not making time to read any and not being sure that is what you have prioritized in your reading list, and says, “Yeah, some people are afraid of reading Ayn Rand.” I guess I’m hypothetically too scared to read more of her stuff. For those who have known me since my middle school years, Ayn Rand has become my new “Hobbit.” I refused to read it for years because someone used my lack of having read it as an insult. Was really my loss in that case. This case, I’m still holding the grudge. And prefer Sartre.


Featured image photo attribution: “Flag of Wisconsin“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

All images not attributed elsewhere are property of and subject to copyright regulations.

Home on the Range | A South Dakota Safari

This is where my in-laws live.

south dakota ranch

It’s no joke. This is a walk on their land, just down the gravel road.

My parents-in-law live in south-central South Dakota. A week-long visit on a working ranch is the dream of many. I’ll admit that sometimes we take it for granted. Mostly in the winter.

But during mid-August with mild temperatures, there are few places I’ve stayed that seem as beautiful.

south dakota ranch wild grasses

country landscaping russian sage

Usually during visits, it seems like we’ve got so much scheduled in (picture your typical holiday schedule).  This time, although I wouldn’t necessarily classify our time as entirely relaxing (Jordan’s sister described the house as the scene from Home Alone when every room is full of family), we had much less scheduled than we normally do during our short visits.

There was time for swinging on the front porch, sipping a coffee in the breakfast nook, lounging underneath the walnut tree, and strolling out to the corralled horses.

horse nostrils

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horses south dakota

horse by red barn

red shed

red barn window

One of my favorite moments during our time is what could be described as a South Dakota Safari. I wanted to go out for some photos and a bit of nature, and my father-in-law obliged. Soon, there were seven of us (Lola, the dog, included) piled into the pick-up, out for a nature/ranch tour. While on safari, my camera showed no restraint, taking photos of landscapes, plants, livestock, and wildlife.*  We sat smiling in the back of the pick-up, tossing pistachio shells out the back between photo ops, making new memories instead of catching up on old ones.

south dakota ranch

south dakota ranch dog in pickup

south dakota ranch gravel road

south dakota ranch dam

south dakota ranch thistle

south dakota ranch scenic view

south dakota ranch cactus

south dakota ranch

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sunflowers south dakota

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angus bull south dakota

beef cattle south dakota

beef cattle south dakota

Sorry, I know there is something entirely too “city person” about taking a cow pie photo, but somehow it seemed appropriate.

cow pie

angus bull south dakota

yucca plant south dakota

south dakota ranch view

south dakota pasture plant

south dakota ranch dog

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At one point, we climbed a hill on the property for a better view. We enjoyed ourselves so much there that we forced the whole crew back up for family photos a couple days later (I’ll share a few soon!). The views were great, the weather perfect, and the mood light.

south dakota ranch

south dakota ranch scenic view

south dakota ranch

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cassie on ranch

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Lola was honored a la Simba by Mufasa Emilee.

simba dedicatino of dog

Alas, we returned to the pick-up, worked on those pistachios again, and made our way back to the house for supper.

south dakota ranch photo

The land truly is beautiful. And vast. And–if you find moments to sneak away down the road by yourself–peaceful.

Tonight, I had the most wonderful jog. During four miles on foot, I met one vehicle and waved at one neighbor. I was chased along the fence by a herd of cattle. I was baaed at by some friendly sheep. And greeted again by two deer and my pal, the rabbit who I continue to see. I loved all of that, but mostly, I was just in awe of the peace that surrounded me in between those moments. If we overlook those South Dakota winds, of course.


*During our “safari,” wildlife which was spotted includes two white-tailed deer, one rabbit, hawks, woodpeckers, and many other birds.