Kentucky is Full of Surprises!

Starting last summer, Shane and I and a group of friends began planning a summer vacation. After dates were debated and sites were sifted through, it was decided that Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee would be the place we would visit. Knowing it was a bit of a drive, and the fact that Shane and I were going to skip some sort of anniversary trip like Costa Rica, we decided that our way down would be made our one on one time before the group cabin experience.

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So I booked us a stay at the lovely Carter Caves State Resort Park in Kentucky. This little park had some big sites to see, one of which we meandered to right upon entering the park. As we wandered on the trail, remarking that we hadn’t seen too many trail markers, honestly something that continued to stick out the entire time we were down south, we came up to the “hole” that looked down into the natural bridge that the trail was leading us to.

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We thought that was pretty neat, but we crossed the road and continued on not thinking much of the hole and comparing it to cenotes we had seen in Mexico. But soon we reached the natural bridge, and it actually made us stop with surprise and awh in our tracks. It was huge!

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That wouldn’t be the only surprise that evening.

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When we reached our room and checked in, to Shane’s delight, he discovered, as he and anyone from Kentucky would put it, “the world’s best ginger-ale”. As we cooled of sharing a glass of it, we decided to hit one more trail and natural bridge before trying the dinner at the restaurant.

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It too was impressive, and there was a platform at the top of it where you could look down into the gully that ran through it. You could tell that they were set up to offer zip-line adventures, but we visited the park in mid-May, so things weren’t quite set up for summer fun yet.

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We got back to our room, where we happened to have cell service, and my phone began to ring with a number from Oregon. If you read my last blog post, you know that I am headed out there soon to be an Artist-in-Residence. That wasn’t on the forefront of my mind, as I had just answered a rejection email, right before that last hike, with a nice “thank you for considering me” and “keep me in the loop for next year” and “what can I keep in mind for future applications”. But I answered the call, thinking maybe they were going to tell me via a phone call what they thought of my application; it would be a first, but it wasn’t inconceivable. Shane relaxed with another “world’s best ginger-ale” while I took the most wonderfully surprising phone call I have ever received.

It was a ranger from John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Upon receiving my prompt response, they re-evaluated my application and realized they had had tunnel vision when looking for an artist for this years spot recipient. My medium of wool would work out perfectly with their fall festival focused on sheep and they wondered if I would still be interested.

All I can say is, at this point Shane was filming me on his phone, because I was nearly jumping out of my skin with excitement and my face was hurting from smiling. I of course answered yes! We celebrated with a meal at the restaurant on location, Tierney’s Cavern, and the next morning I enjoyed a coffee on the deck reading from Psalms, my heart bursting with gladness for all the wonderful things in my life before Shane awoke and the other Elser family joined us that day.

A theme verse for that week and this summer was from Psalms 145. That whole chapter breathed a lot of truth that week, but that morning verse 19 really stuck with me.

Psalms 145:19 “He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.”

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What woke up Shane was a phone call from his brother saying they were close to the park, and Shane, in vacation mode, groggily admitted to having just woke up and not having breakfast yet. The other Elser family joined us as we ate from the buffet again in Tierney’s Cavern. It was a really fantastic, all kinds of southern, breakfast.

Now, something we just weren’t familiar with was this idea of “state resort parks”. In all my research pre-vacation, it seemed like a really great idea and it just something we don’t have in Pennsylvania. Almost every park had a perk that accompanied the booking of a room. For us it was a guided cave tour and that great breakfast, so after we dined we headed to the Welcome Center where we had to go to sign up for our tour.

A few delightful things were at the Welcome Center. For starters, the Natural Bridge Trail head was there, and we got to show Quintin, Raesha and little Bryce that amazing limestone natural bridge. But, the Welcome Center had another treat, these homemade sort of big cowtail like candies. I can’t remember what the folks in the shop called them, and as I researched them more recently, the name Modjeskas has popped up.

Loaded up with Modjeskas, we headed in the direction of our guided cave tour that took us away from the many trail heads that begin near the Welcome Center. Keep this in mind if you ever visit this park. The one trail near the guided Cascade Cave tour was the Box Canyon Trail. We chose to do it before our guided tour.

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This trail was well worth it. Almost a mile of big, beautiful rock formations in Olive Hill, Kentucky.

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It reminded me a little of Hocking Hills with it’s large rock walls that shot up into the sky streaked with earth-tones.

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The trail was manageable for us four adults, one, Raesha, being pregnant, and one toddler. We finished in time to sit and rest for a bit before meeting at the parking lot for the cave tour.

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Like any good cave tour, we saw little bats dotting the ceiling in the Dance Hall portion of the cave where they used to hold weekly dances! Could you imagine?

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Even though it was May, our tour group was pretty large, and we were near the end of it, the last to leave each of the unique spaces like the Lake Room where they turned off the lights so we could get the full affect of the reflecting pool.

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As promised, we got to see the 30 foot underground waterfall. Just as a note for anyone who hasn’t been there, it isn’t in a large space like the Dance Hall or Lake Room cave spaces. We went down the stairs into a small cave to view it a little at a time.

The guided trail overall had around 250 stairs. They were spread out and manageable with a two year old. The rest of the trail was really easy to walk along and we were surrounded by people of all ages. At the end, we had to walk through a sudsy shoe bath because of the white-nose syndrome plaguing the bats. Our ranger and guide was very informative of the bat’s health in the park, the history of the park, and cave information. It helped that our particular guide had grown up living and loving Carter Caves, her passion for it was really clear.

We ordered pizza that night, so yes, there was a pizza place that delivers that far, it just took a little while, and we enjoyed state trivia while enjoying some of Kentucky’s fine ginger-ale on the deck.

The next morning we were going to take the mile and a half Horn Hollow Trail. The Horn Hallow valley boasts of wildflowers from April till May, so we would’ve hit it at the perfect time, but the description of it also included the word “hilly”. We chose against it as Raesha wanted to save her energy for Tennessee, instead we threw axes at the Welcome Center. This is not an activity that the park necessarily had out for any-old visitor. They happened to have the backstops for ax throwing, and like any good outdoorsman, my husband had a few axes!

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There was so much more to explore with in this little park that it will definitely remain on my radar. The breakfasts were great, the guided tour was worth it, and the trails we did do were stunning. If you are going from one place to the next, and this park is in the middle, take the time to stop in. Better yet, give it its due, and spend a few days taking in this unique Kentucky landscape.

 

Artist-in-Residence

I am so pleased to announce that I will be the Artist-in-Residence at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in ten days. Ten days! Can you believe it?

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So what all does this entail, right? I mean, what even is an artist-in-residence? I have gotten that question A LOT in this whirlwind of a summer, and I love answering it. A residency invites artists to be away from their normal environment to create, make, and be inspired in a new setting. It is a chance for an artist to reflect, research, and even present.

When it comes to the National Parks Service, people like to reference the Hudson River School painters and how they captured America’s wild places. They were in their glory in the mid 19th century, and brought to life America’s landscapes with the clear influence of Romanticism. Wild places still inspire artists, and many National Parks offer an AIR program.

In college, when I learned that this was a way I could share my art and my love for the NPS, it has been a big goal to make it as an AIR.  It has been such an honor and blessing to have been chosen to create at a place that is home to a world class record of ancient mammals and their ecosystems. While I am there, I will be giving a public presentation to the local schools and my big focus will be on the oreodont (pictured below) despite one of my portfolio application images being of a brontothere head mount (pictured above).

So for me, being an AIR gives me a chance to use my art to promote and stick up for our nation’s public lands. What a month to do it in too, after all September is Public Lands Month! My art work will tell a story of the secrets hidden in the land at John Day Fossil Beds and I will bring to life these mammals that once roamed this place.

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I will try to keep this blog updated on my AIR experience between other posts of the many adventures Shane, Jagger, Grizz and I had this summer. Now off to pack!

 

Hiking Hocking Hills

Being in nature is a way that Shane and I find God’s glory. It is no replacement for the unity we can find in a church, small group, or concert setting, but for us, it is a way to find “our Jesus” like I suggested in the last post. What is so extra wonderful to me is that as we stare in wonder at wandering waterfalls, I know that Shane and I are thankful to the same creator, the one and only creator, God.

As good as all the food was on Shane’s birthday getaway, I do have to rave a little about the amazing place we were at, Hocking Hills, Ohio. We arrived on a Friday after a stop at Cabela’s and only did one small hike, if you could even call it that, that evening. We thought we could hit the waterfall labelled “Cedar Falls” before the weather turned, but only made it down the meandering steps down the steep hill to a rock wall and lazy stream before we decided we should turn back. That rock wall alone was amazing and left me wondering how it would sound if it sung out praises.

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If you get a chance to visit this place, let me tell you something that I only learned in hind site: the steps leading down from the parking lot were created by an artist! Akio Hizume designed these nearly 100 steps that lead you to the path below based on the Fibonacci sequence and one dimensional Penrose lattice. Shane and I remarked on the stairs while we were there and their spacing, which now in hind site is funny, because the artist purposely spaced them so you would have to change your leading foot as you walked.

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Had we known how close the falls were, I am certain we could’ve reached them that evening, but instead we parked at the Cedar Falls parking area and viewed them the next day. They were part one to a long hike we planned out that included seeing the Old Man’s Cave and Lower Falls.

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To best describe our hike, we went in then out to the Cedar Falls location, and continued past the artist stairs and around a bend to head on our way to the Old Man’s Cave. Visually on a map, this seemed like an easy hike, and unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of good information in the pamphlets we received from the visitor center on what the hike was actually like. Right off the bat, we hit a little scramble that the dogs enjoyed, we could’ve crossed the shallow stream and avoided it, but we didn’t need to.

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By the time we reached the lower falls, we were passing people headed in the opposite direction asking how much further they needed to go to hit Cedar Falls, some with exasperated looks, and I don’t blame them. That particular path had quite a few ups and downs, narrow points, and was no easy walk in the park. This was fine for Shane and I and the puppy, but we both were aware of how much Jagger might be aching by the end of the day, and as it was, by the time we hit the lower falls, he kept laying down any time he could.

We debated at this point the best way to continue with more stairs to the right of us, should we turn back now or continue on? We decided to at least make it to the Old Man’s Cave, and took the stairs to do so, which weren’t all that bad. People of all ages were doing the stairs after all, so Jagger did well.

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Reaching the very busy Old Man’s Cave, we again stopped and debated, giving Jagger time to lay down, where to go. The was always the opportunity to go back the way we came, but to be honest, that wasn’t an easy hike and we weren’t sure how well the old man, Jagger, would do. We decided to go on towards the ‘A’ frame bridge that crossed the gorge and to take the Gorge Overlook Trail back to Cedar Falls. Knowing that over look meant it would be over the bumpy terrain we just hiked through, I said to Shane it would probably be similar to that hike we did in Ricketts Glen, where after fallowing the water and seeing falls, it traced the top of the gorge and was an easy walk through tall trees. Fortunately for Jagger, that is exactly what this trail turned out to be. It was funny because all along the way we passed people who we had passed at the bottom headed in the opposite direction, we would all give a smile knowing we had all reached our destination and were on the homestretch of our own hikes.

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We got to pass over the breast of the dam that hold back the waters to Rose Lake. This was one of a few metal grated bridges that made Grizz a little nervous.

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Finally we made it made it to a bridge that crossed over to a very small parking lot. We recognized the lot from our drive in, and though it wasn’t our lot, with the grey skies, we thought it would just be quicker to cross here and walk up the road a short distance to where we started. Before we did though, we stopped on a lovely rock bench to reflect, and actually got some cute shots of all of us together; proof that I was indeed on this trip!

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Surprisingly enough, that is the only hiking we did while at Hocking Hills. We agreed we could definitely explore more, because we missed the famous Ash Cave and didn’t even see the Upper Falls that were above the Old Man’s Cave. Unfortunately, I have more pictures of my dogs and man then of the sites because I didn’t have a lens on my camera that allowed for wide angle shots, but was more appropriate for portraits and low light, but I am okay with that. You can look up picture after picture that people took of these places online, and they are all great, but what mattered more to me was who I got to spend the time with, so that is what I captured.

If you plan to go to Hocking Hills for a quick weekend here is a list of tips to make the trip go a little smoother:

  • Print maps of hikes offline, they are a little more detailed than ones we received in the park
  • Remember, waterfalls don’t happen with out elevation, you are in a gorge, there are scrambles and stairs that the maps don’t go into detail about
  • The primitive camping is great and spread out, their normal campsites were a little more crowded but you have electricity and are close to a bathhouse, and in the summer time, a swimming pool
  • Wear good shoes, Shane and I are all about our Keen sandals, but were grateful we had on our hiking shoes for the hike we took
  • Give yourself time for these hikes to stop and wonder, the map may say a half an hour or hour, but if you are stopping to play fetch it takes longer!

Hocking Hills Birthday

I can’t begin to write all of the things that Shane and I did this summer, but I can tell you that when we looked back at a calendar, our weekends were mostly all taken up by some sort of gathering or activity. This is a blessing as much as it is an annoyance; I consider it a blessing because it means we are healthy enough and able enough to do all these different things, but it is also annoying to think of how little we got done around our home. It is a funny thing because if we did more at home, maybe we would be more inclined to finish projects at home, but as it is, we are hungry for adventure. So even though we want to get things done with in our walls, we are out and about in God’s nature.

That all being said, we are well into fall and I have barely kept up with this blog, this glimpse into our wildly busy little life. But as rain drizzles down outside and lesson plans are finished for dance classes tonight, I feel I can take the time to express my pure joy over Shane’s little birthday weekend that I planned at the beginning of summer.

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Hocking Hills, Ohio has been on my radar for quite some time, and knowing we were going to have a puppy this summer, no big trips were planned. When I say there were no big trips planned, I mean on both sides of the family no trips were planned by either side, unlike last summer where we spent a week with Shane’s side in Put-In Bay, Ohio. This would make it seem like our calendar was left wide open for little weekend getaways, but in fact little things kept pushing out any free time we might have had. The idea of Hocking Hills stuck though and I booked far in advance a camping trip there over Shane’s birthday in September.

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This place was beautiful! I could go on about the falls there, but I am going to focus more on our camping experience.

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We got there on a Friday afternoon and set up camp. I had booked a primitive campsite, which I am so glad we did after driving through their crowded campsites later that weekend when we went to the bathhouse to shower. I had chosen the furthest primitive site from the parking lot which was almost a mile down a gravel path. We took two packs in and carried a soft-sided cooler and bucket of water for the dogs. The cooler was refilled each day with the food we were going to eat which prevented us from hauling back a huge cooler.

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I had chosen the farthest campsite, figuring we would have a puppy and who knows how he would act while camping. To our great surprise, he was so well behaved! Grizz and Jagger both slept under the tent at night and we never heard a peep from Grizz. Honestly, it was Jagger who was the loud one. From time to time he would catch the glimpse of a neighbors flashlight and start barking.

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By the end of the trip, the two dogs actually seemed to get along a little better. Shane remarked that maybe this was a good bonding trip for them!

But it wasn’t just a good bonding trip for them, it was another brick in the foundation of Shane and I’s relationship. We didn’t have to go to Hocking Hills to appreciate one another more for their strengths, but it gave us a chance to in a different way. I had begun the craziness of my job and was only on the second week of it by the time we packed up the truck and drove out to Ohio leaving behind a big wooly mess of my fiber sculptures all over the dining room because I had just done my first art festival with my fiber sculptures.

Needless to say, it was mainly Shane that packed and prepared for the trip! Normally I am on top of the food game, but again, was caught off guard because I was so sidetracked with fibers and dance. We had long ago signed up for one of those home delivery meal services and honestly hadn’t received any in a very long time, but God had perfect timing because that week I had forgotten to cancel it and somehow an order showed up at our door step. Basically ignoring their cooking instructions, we had amazing meals over the fire with their fresh ingredients.

For Shane’s birthday meal, we had his favorite, salmon! We cooked it in foil with a sweet mustard sauce. It was paired with green beans cooked in foil and a hasselback potatoes in foil with sour cream.

 

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Thank goodness Shane picked up breakfast at our little local meat shop and got the worlds best bacon that we enjoyed with some jetboiled coffee and eggs.

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We hiked all day Saturday, so it was a good thing we had loaded up on fat and protein in the morning. We grabbed a quick sandwich after the all day hike before returning to our campsite where we made my favorite meal of the trip of southwestern pork chops topped with cilantro lime sour cream, cheese and tortilla strips and a side of foil cooked squash and zucchini.

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We left in the afternoon on Sunday after we had an easy morning of oatmeal and coffee as we slowly packed up the whole site. Once everything was packed, we stood around the warm fire as the stuffed peppers Shane also grabbed at the meat market cooked. It was a perfect ending to all of our yummy meals.

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Everything that came in in one trip went out in one trip! And yes, I brought my felting things a mile hike in to a campground because I was in the middle of a pumpkin seed bluegill that I was really excited about!

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It was a wonderful birthday weekend slipped in between busy weeks and rushed schedules. Even though it was short, it was a great reminder of God’s creativity and how he has blessed us with one another! 

 

 

Eating at a Soda

Shane and I had a goal in Costa Rica, and that was to have some really authentic food while we were there. This is one of those little reasons I love that I am with Shane. When we want to find the best burger, we know that the hole in the wall place normally has just that, and it neither scares or grosses out either one of us. So we knew that to have some real, local food in Costa Rica, we had to find a Soda.

We didn’t rent a car, and although our hotel had bicycles, we had the hotel drive us into town after figuring out it would cost about the same for a taxi to take us. As we went driving up and down steep hills, we were glad we took the hotel’s van instead of a bike! The curving roads slithered up and down the not yet green hills, I think the “short ride” might have turned into an all day event.

The Playa Del Coco was a twenty minute ride through the countryside. Our driver pointed out a grocery store across from a Hard Rock Cafe and proceeded to say something about a rodeo. Honestly, we were distracted and I got hung up on how he was saying rodeo, unsure if he really meant what I traditionally think of a rodeo as being, and began looking for some sort of stadium that could host a rodeo. Before he dropped us off we, despite him pointing out the Hard Rock Cafe, we asked where the best local soda was and he seemed excited to share where to eat.

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We wandered the sidewalk that lined the beach for a bit, taking in the kids laughter, music playing, and seeing plenty of food carts, and were never approached by someone trying to sell their goods. People were just out enjoying their weekend. There was even a skate park that had tents set up, music blasting and people watching maybe a small competition. Everything was small and condensed, so soon enough, we had walked what seemed to be the main part of the beach and we headed to the recommended soda.

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Shane got a fried red snapper, and I got my favorite Latin American dish of ceviche. Locals were basically the only other customers around us in the bright pink space. Air and sounds flowed through the walls from outside since there were no windows, only stacks of rectangles out of cement. With Catholic images, silk flowers, stacks of glass coke bottles and a beautiful hand painted mural on the wall surrounding us, we had one of our yummiest meals.

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It is so fun exploring with your best friend, laughing that our bright pink room that we have yet to renovate was the same color as the soda, and trying each others lunch choices. I love that a year has trickled by, and there is no less charm to our relationship. We both enjoy similar things and still surprise each other and introduce each other to new things. I love spicy things, and Shane has pointed out, since being with me, he hasn’t ever not liked spicy things, but finds himself searching it out and enjoying it more. So one thing we discovered during lunch was this tabasco sauce, Lizano Tabasco.

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It was so much better than any tabasco sauce we had ever had, it was thicker, more flavorful, and we knew we had to bring some home. After our lunch, we walked to the grocery store as live musicians played on the streets with horses trotting up and down the road. We passed vendors and shops, again, never approached about buying things we weren’t looking at, which left a big positive impression on us. We left the tiny, but vibrant town with some fresh avocados, delicious Lizano Tabasco and some soda-pop and juices since we weren’t at an all-inclusive kind of hotel and drove back in our hotel van pointing out monkeys dotting the tops of trees excited about our new discoveries.

 

Costa Rica

It was a busy fall week for Shane, a stressful week, and one night he came home and said, “Plan a trip!” The trip wasn’t going to be for that week or weekend, we looked ahead to our anniversary and decided now was the time to book something for January. So I spent a whole day comparing prices, points, and flights and decided on Costa Rica. If we were going to use some points, might as well go big.

We flew into Liberia, a small airport about twenty minutes away from our destination, the El Mangroove hotel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We arrived in the afternoon and walked out of the airport, following our hotel driver in winds that could knock a toddler over.

“Ah, yes,” our driver said with a smile when we commented on it. “It is our windy season.”

Our drive to our hotel took us past sugar cane fields, fields with horses and cows and strange trees. The road was winding and wove up and down hills. Motorcycles zipped past us in the other lane. We soon found out that having a fast motorcycle there was the thing to have, and when it wasn’t tourist season, you could have fun flying on these winding roads, but it was less safe to do that during tourist season.

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We were greeted at our hotel with a cool cloth and a passion fruit juice and as we waited for our room we had our first meal of ceviche and fried chicken skins. The fried chicken skins were so amazing, fatty, and flavorful. When we ordered them, our waitress lifted an eyebrow, and we reassured her that they sounded delicious.

“Not many people order those,” she said.

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We ordered them multiple times on our trip. We had them for lunch, dinner and breakfast. Considering our fat-fueled diet, they seemed like a good fit and were delicious.

After discovering our beautiful welcome to your anniversary get-away treat from the hotel of chocolate covered strawberries and champagne, we took a walk on the beach, just enjoying the water and the black sand. Shane’s mind ever on fishing saw a fisherman and had half a notion to ask him how he was doing but passed. The fisherman had his car right in the trees on the beach, a hammock set up, and a kid digging a hole in the dark sand. It was a public beach, and almost immediately Shane and I agreed this was a kind of vibe we were good with.

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Laid back.

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Relaxing.

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It was a good start to our anniversary trip.