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“The Wild Side” of Aruba

“The Wild Side” of Aruba

The West side of Aruba is populated with roads, towns, hotels, etc. The East side of Aruba is the opposite. There are no towns or hotels, for a section of the area there aren’t even roads. Those sections can only be accessed by four wheel drive jeeps that can power over the rocks.

Before traveling to Aruba, we talked to different people who had vacationed here before. Some had taken jeep tours, some had done horse back rides through the area, and some knew people who rented their own jeeps and did it on their own. We were in favor of the go on our own route while planning the trip. But there are several problems with this. Many of the car rental companies that rent jeeps actually say in the contract that you can’t drive them to locations on the wild side. Plus, several of the going on their own stories included blowing out tires and having to have the company come out and exchange them cars.

Once actually in Aruba, we decided to do a tour. I’m really glad we did. Our tour guides were excellent, filling in a lot of the background information on what we were seeing. Truthfully, I’m not sure we could have driven the East coast on our own. It’s not rocky like a gravel road in the United States; you are driving around and on top of boulders. Granted, our driver took the hardest route everywhere… we were actually sideways at one point! It was like tossing a salad, except we were the lettuce and the jeep was the bowl. Almost impossible to shoot photos while we were driving.

It was our second to last full day in Aruba and we chose the Island Safari by ABC Tours, because it went to everywhere that was left on my “to-see” list and more. We snorkeled twice on the all-day trip and drove the ENTIRE East coast. Our drives were excellent, the noon meal was OK (nothing fancy, but not bad), and it was nice that they provided cool water the whole day. They grouped the jeeps well after observing us. We were in a jeep with a younger family and two couples on their honeymoon; clearly the “young adult” group who got the wildest ride.

The day started out at the California Lighthouse and we admired the views from La Trattoria El Faro Blanco restaurant. From there, the jeeps drove over the sand duned area of the island and along the coast, giving us our first looks at the rocky coast line and the stacks of rocks that appear everywhere.

   

Our second stop was the Alto Vista Chapel. A chapel was originally built on the location by a Venezuelan missionary in 1750. It is said that was the first church on the island. After falling into ruins, a school teacher headed up the rebuild and the church as we see it now was completed in 1952. Weekly services are held here and a yearly pilgrimage is made by many of the island’s residents. In fact, while we were there a small service was taking place. The roads out to the chapel are not paved, but they are only dusty not rocky, so you could visit this stop on your own.

   

Gold was first reported on the island in 1824. Aruba has a long history with gold mining, many companies and countries have come through attempting to harvest the metal. The Bushiribana Gold Mill was built in 1874, but they still used old-fashioned methods to collect the gold. The Mill eventually shut down in 1915, due to the lack of materials available during World War 1 and the high cost of operation with low efficiency.

      

   

Every where on Aruba was SO windy.

While you’re at the Gold Mill, make sure to stop on the other side of the road too. This is one of the best places to observe the rock towers. Tradition is you stack at least 3 rocks up, making a wish on each one. If you can get the tower to stay, they’ll come true. This is not local belief, instead being started by tourists, who I’m sure also found the broad flat stones everywhere as crazy as I did.

      

Aruba has several natural bridges on the island. The largest one, however, collapsed back in 2005. The area where it stood is still considered a tourist site. On our trip we visited an actual natural bridge and the area where the old one stood.

The actual natural bridge was a fairly small one. The shore line next to the bridge was covered in crazy flat stones. We climbed up on top of the bridge and had a nice view of the shoreline from there. The area under the bridge was only a few feet taller than I am.

      

      

The area where the largest bridge once stood is now just a small area of sand along the rocky coast. Our drivers took us up on the mountain behind the bridge, instead of down along it. From here we were able to get spectacular views. I could not get enough of this coast line.

 

   

   

   

  

After the bridge, they took us back to their office for lunch. It was nice, but nothing spectacular. The frightening part was when they said the first half was the gentle part!

The Natural Pool is the center of a ring of rocks just off the coast. The ocean waves slamming into the rocks spray the water over and into the pool. With the water, fish and other sea creatures get thrown into the pool. It has created a small eco diverse world that is great for snorkeling! This is the main go-to feature of the Wild Side and it was worth it. Not as many fish when we went as some of my friends reported. Make sure to look up while walking to the pool too, the views were wonderful!

   

      

Coming off of the Wild Side was drove through the Arikok National Park. We made a quick stop at Fontein Cave. It was just an in and out stop, probably not a must see. Exiting the park you drive through a ton of wind mills.

Finally the tour ended on Baby Beach. They handed out snorkeling gear and gave us time to explore. This beach was right by our Air bnb, but we didn’t go snorkeling on our own, so it was still nice to experience it in a different way. They also brought bread for us to feed the fish. Not exactly sure on the fish health ramifications, but they sure did gobble it up.

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Lost in Calla Lily Valley

Calla Lily Valley is an area on top of bluffs along Highway 1 in Big Sur.

Big Sur doesn’t have the best cell phone reception and therefore following our phone’s GPS was somewhat difficult. I had printed information and maps on “Calla Lily Valley” that included the highway marker, but we still drove up and down this area of the coast not finding it. It didn’t help that we were visiting in 2016, in the height of the California drought. There were no calla lily’s to be seen. We eventually gave up and decided to get out at a place that looked pretty and had flowers.

We started out hiking a trail that was cut in the brush/flowers/grasses. It soon narrowed, but we still blindly followed it. Even though Donovan said “uh Lindsay, this isn’t a trail. This is just from water run-off.”

   

     

 I’m SO glad we did. We ended up on the edge of the cliff and could see the coast stretching out in both directions. The water crashed below us and there were greenery, succulents and flowers everywhere. The cliffside was covered in these tiny white and purple flowers, perhaps a type of wild morning glory?

      

    

  

If you’re looking for the actual Calla Lily Valley, here’s some articles by people who made it there.

Back Country Cow

Adventurer of the West

Big Sur Road Trip

Big Sur Road Trip

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We spent one full day exploring the Big Sur Coast during our recent trip to the LA area. The area known as Big Sur is several hours North of LA, especially with LA’s traffic. We got a hotel room in Morro Bay for the night on either side of our Big Sur road trip, so we could have a full day exploring the coast.

Driving straight through from Morro Bay to Monterey, which encompasses all the area known as Big Sur plus other wonderful stretches of the coast, on Highway 1 takes about 3 hours. The roads are very windy and narrow, so you have to go fairly slow. If anyone can drive without stopping, they have a lot more self control than I do. Our plan was to drive the route North and then come slowly back down the coast making all our stops. The thought process was we’d have a better idea where things are and wanted to beat the crowds to the big attractions, like McWay Falls on the Northern end. We definitely made some stops on the way North. We could not resist those rocky ocean coastlines. But for the bigger attractions, I do think it worked well.

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Before you go…

  • Big Sur has almost no cell phone recpetion. I printed off a dozen google maps before we went and did a lot of research on where our stops were. It’s also lacking signage in some areas, so those notes and maps really came in handy!
  • Everything is very expensive in Big Sur. Fill up on gas before you go.

Calla Lily Valley

We didn’t stop at the “right” path. In fact what we traveled down was not technically a path. I said “Let’s follow this trail!” Donovan said “That’s not a trail. That’s a path water runs down.” I said “Well I’m going to follow it anyways.” We ended up on a beautiful point along the coast all alone. The wind was strong, the flowers were pretty, the views were gorgeous, and I felt on top of the world. Lesson: Follow the path less traveled, even if it’s not technically a path.

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Bixby Bridge

This is a very popular stop and it was crowded. Not the best view in Big Sur, but it’s worth a quick stop. I read a tip on this blog to pull off on a dirt road to the Northeast of the bridge and it made a big difference! Almost no one else was there and it was a better view.

DSC_0551 (2)e2McWay Falls

The crown jewel of Big Sur for a good reason. Parking in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park costs $10 per vehicle, but there is plenty of parking along side the road. If the road is covered in cars going both ways, you’ve found McWay Falls. Make sure your car is not touching any of the white lines; they are serious about ticketing. We saw cops ticketing other cars. The path is short, slowly revealing the cove to you until you can see the Falls. It’s a beautiful pristine area, because there is no access to the beach by the falls. McWay Falls drops 80 feet from a granite cliff into the ocean.

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Hermitage

The drive up to this Camaldolese Benedictine monastery is one of a kind. The drive to the top is basically a one lane road full of switch backs and breathtaking views. We didn’t go inside the monastery, but the drive up was worth it.

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Limekiln State Park

Limekiln deserves its own post. It was beautiful and green even in the drought. I loved being back among the redwoods and the park has giant kilns, a waterfall, and beach access. This is the only stop we paid $10 to park and it was worth it. We love hiking and this was the perfect side trip to stretch our legs.

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Willow Creek

We were actually looking for Jade Cove when we ended up here. The views from the top parking lot are fantastic and you can drive down to walk along the beach.

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Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

This area features dozens if not hundreds of elephant seals. Humans can observe from the boardwalk.

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There are a handful of places to eat in Big Sur and they’re all pricey. We stumbled upon the Big Sur Deli and were very happy. The sandwiches were giant and made quickly. We took ours and found a turn off along the coast to sit and eat. Great food and an ocean view for a small fraction of what you’d pay somewhere like Nepenthe.

We spent the night at 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites in Morro Bay. The hotel was clean, the complimentary br eakfast had good variety, plus our room had views of the harbor. We even got a veterans discount booking on their website! I would stay here again.

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If we had multiple days in the area, I would also want to check out: Highbridge Falls, Jade Cove, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (beyond McWay Falls), Pfeiffer Falls Trail, Point Lobos State Park, Salmon Creek Falls, and Sand Dollar Beach to name a few.

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Ferne Clyffe Happy Hollow

Ferne Clyffe Happy Hollow

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Looks can be deceiving and maps can be hard to read. For our three-year anniversary, Donovan and I rented a cabin nearby Carbondale. It was “dog-friendly” but we wanted to tired Chiba out a bit before going there. We drove to nearby Ferne Clyffe and decided to try out some of the trails we’d never been on before.

Ferne Clyffe Wanted To Do blue

Here’s part of the Ferne Clyffe map. The red line is the trail I thought we were going to do, but it turns out that where the green circle is, the trails aren’t connected! So we ended up doing something more like the blue trail. This involved walking through the woods instead of on paths multiple times and several more miles and hours than we estimated. The trails we were on are called Happy Hollows trails and make up an 8 mile horse trail. We probably only did 6-7 of the 8 miles, thanks to some “short-cuts.” I wouldn’t recommend this during summer. Horse trails are awful for bugs! But the pine trees and mossy bluffs made the scenery interesting for a long winter hike.

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We hiked through a lot of forest and pine forest.

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Eventually coming to a gorgeous area with mossy bluffs and frozen water drippings.

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THEN! We stumbled upon the hidden Natural Bridge of Ferne Clyffe. It’s not actually hidden, but it’s in a very remote area of the park on the horse trail. I had read about it, but even the two blogs that brought it up, didn’t say where it was located in the park. Honestly, I can’t tell you where exactly either (we were super lost when we found it), but somewhere right around this yellow star on the map:

Ferne Clyffe Natural Bridge

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Right around the bridge is where we started to realize we were a lot more lost than originally realized and had gone a lot further than originally planned. Donovan turned google maps on his phone and it showed us WAY FAR AWAY from the Ferne Clyffe road. So we abandoned the trail and walked down hill toward the road. Eventually we found the other side of the trail loop and followed it almost back. Except google maps showed us right down the hill from the road back to our car, so we once again abandoned trail to take a short cut back.

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It wasn’t what we planned for our anniversary, but we spent time doing something we love with the people we love. I told Donovan he could be the map reader next time 😉

Ghost Dance Canyon

Ghost Dance Canyon

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Dixon Springs is a 801 acre state park near Golconda, IL. The area is known for mineral-enriched water and was a health spa in the 19th century. The area today is known for cliffs, crags, boulders, and bubbling brooks that turn into waterfalls with enough rain, just a few of my favorite things.

The park contains a swimming pool and some camp grounds (although I read that they aren’t the best in the area). The trails could also use some maintenance. There were a few times that I was guessing where it went next and eventually just followed the sound of the water. The areas without a clear trail were filled with brush and Chiba’s leash became tangled too many times. That being said, it’s a lovely area for a more adventurous hiker!

There are two trails in Dixon Springs: a short down and back trail about a mile called Ghost Dance Canyon and a longer loop of Oak Tree Trail, Bluff Trail, and Pine Tree Trail. I cannot find a length for the longer loop on the internet. The longer loop is definitely the better known of the two. Ghost Dance Canyon can barely be seen on the map of the park. I had read online, however, that Ghost Dance Canyon was the real gem of the park. This time I only completed Ghost Dance Canyon, but I hope to go back for the longer loop.

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Ghost Dance Canyon begins in the parking lot for the swimming pool. You probably wouldn’t even know it was a trail just looking at it. It immediately crosses the brook, takes a left pass a sign for the trail, and goes under a highway bridge.

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After the bridge, you follow a brook for a while. There’s several points where it’s quite easy to be right next to the river and climb around on the rocks. Chiba had fun trying to snap at bubbles.

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The next turn is a tricky one, you have to cross the river, but the path isn’t well laid out. There’s a series of rocks in a line across the brook. If it was warmer, you could easily walk in the water. I did read online that the water can get high in a very rainy season and it’s not advised to cross then.

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The trail picks back up here and you walk alongside a cliff.

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Again there are several paths to walk down to the water’s edge.

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After this is where I became more confused and just followed the sound of falling water. The waterfall was flowing for me!

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The small waterfall was lovely and river rock hopping is always a favorite for me. I do wish the state would spend some time and money cleaning up this area. Even knowing this, I’ll be back to do the longer loop!

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