Categories
1970s Blogging Nature Travel Weather

Appalachian Trail

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Last week I wrote about my visit exactly 30 years ago to Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The 2,194-mile Appalachian Trail (#AT) straddles the Tennessee / North Carolina state line for over 200 miles through the park. It reaches its highest point just below the summit of Clingmans Dome at 6,625 feet. (The summit is 18 feet higher.) The summit is the highest point I’ve set foot on land in my lifetime. From south to north the #AT runs from northwestern Georgia to central Maine.

Flashback to the late-1970s when I lived in Lanham Maryland (a suburb of Washington D.C.). I was a Cub Scout, a Webelos Scout, and a Boy Scout. I think I was 10½-years-old when I moved from the Webelos to the Boy Scouts late in 1977. I remember we had Troop meetings every week at the local VFW. I enjoyed it a lot. We had classroom-like training. We made things. We played games. We planned weekend trips up in the nearby Appalachian Mountains of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. This was fellowship before I ever knew what fellowship was. I was with the Boy Scouts for about 3 years until my family moved away late in 1980.

Most of our weekend trips were in the wintertime (weather-permitting) up in the Appalachians. Our leaders mapped-out a portion of the #AT with camping sites along the way, and we commenced our adventure. I think we hiked up to 10 miles per day wearing heavy backpacks, so we’d cover 20 to 30 miles during an average 2 to 3 day hike. I remember that we’d all start each new morning together (as a Troop), but then with all of our different paces of hiking we’d all start to scatter on the #AT almost immediately in groups of no less than 2. We weren’t allowed to hike solo. I had a good buddy at the time. His name was Eddie. He and I were the shy ones of the Troop. Nobody ever suspected us of doing bad things. So we got away with doing bad things. He and I were friends outside of Scouting. 45 years later I often wonder whatever happened to him. He was probably my best childhood friend ever.

The camping sites after a long day of hiking were wonderful. We erected our own tents. We setup our own fires – usually one big one (for warmth) and a whole bunch of little ones (for cooking). As a Troop we talked about our day on the #AT – people we met along the way, wild animals we saw, things we found, etc. It was a time of talking and laughing and even telling scary stories by the campfire.

Fun Fact: One time me and my buddy Eddie accidently burned our tent down !

Wearing heavy backpacks was quite the experience. We always tried to pack lightly, but you surely didn’t want to forget something (like heavy clothing) for those cold days and colder nights up on the #AT. Some of those nights were bitter cold and windy in the single digits and teens.

And then there’s the hiking shoes. No matter how perfect those shoes fit. No matter how “high-quality” those insulated socks were. You always got blisters on your ankles. They were reminders of the 20 to 30 miles of weekend hiking for the next week (or more) to come.

It was a fun 3 years with the Boy Scouts. I probably would’ve stayed with them well into my teen years had we never moved away.

Some day in the future I hope to return to the Appalachian Trail somewhere in Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia. I want to hike a few miles up there on a nice sunny summertime day – sans backpack and hiking shoes. Maybe start at Harpers Ferry West Virginia – the start of many of our hikes from those fun Boy Scout trips.

From the mountains to the sea – next #TravelThursday. Let’s keep traveling together.

All rights reserved (c) 2022 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

Categories
Blogging Driving Nature Travel Weather

Clingmans Dome Tennessee

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Exactly 30 years ago this week during the first week of August of 1992 me and my brother visited the highest point on land in our lives at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was part of a road-trip together that started at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama (where my brother attended Space Camp). That trip continued into Tennessee. We walked around Nashville for a little while. We spent the night in Knoxville. The next morning we walked around the main tourist district of Gatlinburg. It reeked of smoke. (We later found out that much of a city block was destroyed by an electrical fire almost 3 weeks earlier.) From there we drove U.S. 441 / Newfound Gap Road up into the Great Smoky Mountains.

We stopped at Newfound Gap which straddles the Tennessee / North Carolina state line at an elevation of 5,048 feet. From there we drove the 7-mile road up to Clingmans Dome (which also runs on both sides of the state lines, but mostly the North Carolina side). Once there we parked in the parking lot, and then we walked the steep (12%-grade) half-mile paved trail up to the top of the observation tower. (That was a tough walk going up – much easier coming down.)

The 45-foot concrete tower – built in 1959 – stands at the summit of Clingmans Dome – the highest point in Tennessee (but not North Carolina) at 6,643 feet. It actually stands just across the border in North Carolina. The summit itself is the third-tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River, and it’s the highest point along the Appalachian Trail.

The views can be spectacular from the tower (and even from the parking lot 330 feet lower than the tower) on sunny and clear days. I remember it to be very cool up there on that early August morning – in the low-to-mid-50s – about 25 to 30 degrees cooler than it was in Gatlinburg Tennessee and Cherokee North Carolina at both park ends of U.S. 441. Of course on many days you may not see much of anything – because you’re in the clouds. You’re on top of old Smoky.

WEBCAM (with current weather conditions)

I’m going to make it back to Gatlinburg – and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – and Newfound Gap – and Clingmans Dome – sometime on a future road-trip during my upcoming retirement. And when I do I’ll take pictures. (I don’t believe that any pictures exist from this trip of exactly 30 years ago.)

I mentioned the Appalachian Trail above. Next #TravelThursday I’m staying on the trail to reminisce about my fun (and not-so-fun) experiences on it during the late-1970s as a Boy Scout. Let’s keep traveling together.

All rights reserved (c) 2022 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

Categories
Animals Blogging Nature Photography Travel

Zoo Miami

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. A couple of weeks ago on the Friday leading-in to Memorial Day Weekend here in the U.S.A. I visited the Miami-Dade Zoological Park And Gardens – also known as Zoo Miami. It’s about 18 miles from my home.

This was my 6TH visit over the past 11 years – but first in over 5 years. I usually like to visit once every 2 or 3 years on a cool day during the wintertime (dry season). On this occasion I visited on a sunny and hot day at the end of May (rainy season). I actually took advantage of free admission for all military and veterans during the holiday weekend.

Zoo Miami is huge. It sits on about 750 acres of land – of which less than half is actually developed for animals, employees, and visitors. Over 3,000 animals and 500 species call Zoo Miami home.

This place holds a very special place in my heart, as it’s the first zoo that I ever visited in my life – as a 20 or 21-year-old in 1988. (I never got the zoo experience as a kid.) So I consider it my “childhood” zoo that I’ve now been visiting every few years for the past 34 years. I usually spend a little over 3 hours with each visit. I also don’t see everything during those 3 hours, so I try to visit the exhibits that are new, or that I didn’t get to experience on my previous visit.

On this Friday before the Memorial Day holiday the zoo was absolutely packed with hundreds (maybe over a thousand) elementary, middle, and high school students – roaming in packs large and small – counterclockwise around the park (4 miles around). So I followed the few adults and families that traversed the park clockwise – to mostly avoid the packs of school kids.

That would’ve been nice to visit the National Zoo in Washington D.C. as a school kid in the area back in the late-1970s and early-1980s.

I took 40 photos during my 3-hour trip around the zoo. Here are a few:

Next #TravelThursday we’ll visit my future retirement area of Highlands County Florida. Let’s keep traveling together.

All rights reserved (c) 2022 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

Categories
Blogging Driving Food Music Nature Photography Shopping Travel

My Spring Break Vacation 2022

And now – Week 3 of my 4-week series on my 6-day / 626-mile road-trip adventure here in South Florida and also up in Central Florida.

So my family flew in to South Florida (from North Texas) on a Thursday evening, and they arrived at their hotel at around Midnight. The next day – Friday – they did their own thing, as did I. (See my blog from last #TravelThursday.)

On Saturday March 05TH 2022 we spent the entire day together in Fort Lauderdale and adjacent Dania Beach. We enjoyed Breakfast at TooJay’s (one of my favorites). After that we went shopping at Five Below. (My nieces love that store.) From there we all proceeded over to the Broward County Convention Center where gymnasts from South Florida and beyond competed in various tournaments. My (almost) 12-year-old niece was one of the competitors from beyond – representing Allen Texas (near Dallas) – and she won awards. We were at the tournament for over 4 hours, and it was actually very interesting to watch. (I had never been to one before.)

That night we ate dinner at Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, and then we went shopping at T.J. Maxx. I had no idea that my sister-in-law absolutely loves that store. I think we spent over an hour there. I was bored after the first 10 minutes, but I was with my family, so that beats any other normal Saturday night for me.

The next day – Sunday – they did their own thing, as did I.

On Monday March 07TH we all cruised-up U.S. 27 (in 3 separate vehicles), and we all met at – LEGOLAND !

I’ve wanted to visit Legoland for the past decade, and just after opening time at 10 AM on that day I finally made it. (My family arrived about an hour later.)

Legoland greatly exceeded my expectations. I thought that I would just enjoy watching my nieces have lots of fun, but I had fun too. I even rode some rides including a scary rollercoaster !

My favorite part of Legoland is Miniland U.S.A. which features realistic Lego displays of various U.S. cities and their famous landmarks underneath several MASSIVE white canopy shade covers. You can walk around in this giant centerpiece of the park for a couple of hours enjoying it all and snapping photos all around.

I also appreciated the tribute to Cypress Gardens which was the original tourist attraction (and later theme park) at this location for almost 75 years starting in 1936 and peaking during the 1950s and 1960s. A portion of the original park has been preserved exactly as it used to be, and you can walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Me and my brother actually visited Cypress Gardens on April 02ND 2005 when they had already converted over to a theme park (adjacent to the botanical gardens). We enjoyed the park during the day, and then we attended a Switchfoot concert that night at the park. The concert was quite memorable for us in that Switchfoot were at their mainstream peak back then, so a good crowd came to see them. Also a strong cold front had swept through the region during the day, so it turned cold just in time for the concert after dark. There were swarms of bugs flying around in the cold. It was quite eerie.

It was a fun day at Legoland. We were there from opening to almost closing. I would actually consider purchasing a limited annual pass to the park after I retire and relocate close to that local area. (It’s about an hour up the road from Sebring.)

Next #TravelThursday I’ll conclude my recap of this fun road-trip, and I’ll reveal the location of my next vacation (and series of blog posts).

All rights reserved (c) 2022 Christopher M. Day, CountUp