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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.

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 😉

Chasing Waterfalls in Central Tennessee

Chasing Waterfalls in Central Tennessee

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The area East of Nashville has quite a few waterfalls to offer the adventurer passing through. Before our trip I looked into, Cummins Falls State Park, Burgess Falls State Park, Virgin Falls State Natural Area, and Fall Creek Falls State Park. All four feature beautiful waterfalls and landscapes. Unfortunately, Burgess Falls had several of their main trails closed due to heavy rainfall damaging their stairs. Virgin Falls was stunning, but a 10 mile hike that lots of people choose to do overnight. Sleeping in a tent next to a waterfall… sign me up! But we only had one day in our road trip scheduled for this area, so Virgin Falls was cut from the list as well. That left us with Cummins Falls and Fall Creek Falls to explore on our day in Central Tennessee.

Cummins Falls is a 211 acre park with it’s main feature being a 75 feet high waterfall. There are several paths to hike and views of the falls. We decided to do the route directly to the bottom of the falls and back and it did not disappoint!

According to the website, it was about a 3 mile round trip hike. On the map we followed Overlook Trail, Shortcut Trail, Downstream Trail, and followed the gorge bottom to the falls. We spent about 2.5 hours visiting Cummins Falls. 1 hour hiking to the falls, due to how many times we stopped to take pictures and enjoy the area. 1 hour exploring at the falls and half an hour to hike back with fewer stops.

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The trail to the waterfall is a bit rugged. They don’t recommend flip flops, although I saw some others making the trip in them. I wouldn’t recommend it. We, however, often chose the most difficult path, rock hopping and crossing the river on stones to get pictures and explore. The trail back was easier as we stayed on the river bank more. There is one part where you have to cross the river via rock hopping and we had some difficulty with it.

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The views along the river and completely worth doing this trail. Plus, seeing the waterfall from the bottom is stunning!

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Cummins Falls is the 8th largest Tennessee waterfall in volume. The water pooled at the bottom of the falls goes up to about the chest of an average adult female. If you do want to stay a while and swim, bring a suit! The state park has a line of safety jackets for younger swimmers.

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Cummins Falls is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure to explore. I would definitely recommend this hike if you’re in the area!

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We arrived at Fall Creek Falls at about 5 PM. Knowing we didn’t have a lot of sunlight left, we chose to visit the waterfall overlooks instead of hiking to the bottom of the falls.

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According to the website, Fall Creek Falls is Tennessee’s largest and most visited State Park at 26,000 acres. There are four falls in the park: Fall Creek Falls is the tallest at 256 ft, Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. See the map here.

Then we drove along the Gorge Scenic Drive stopping at some view points to see the beautiful tree covered mountains.

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Finally, we did two quite short trails by Piney Creek Falls. One was the overlook path. The falls were a little hidden behind the trees, so this would definitely be one to hike to the bottom of if you have time.

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The second short trail we did led to a suspension bridge, but didn’t feature any views of the falls.

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We saw lots of people with bikes for their bike trail, canoes, and fishing gear. There’s also an adventure area with a zip line and other aerial obstacles, tennis courts, a golf course, and stables. I can see why this area is so popular. It offers a lot to do, very beautiful views, but isn’t too rustic. For those who want a more rustic visit, there is a long overnight trail as well.

We ate dinner and spent the night at the lodge on the State Park. Overall, it was clean and edible, but didn’t impress us in any way. If you’re going to spend some time here, I would camp if you have the gear.

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Both these areas I’m sure are packed during the summer and weekends. We visited on a Tuesday afternoon/evening in mid September and the crowds were very light.

Pomona Natural Bridge

Pomona Natural Bridge

The Pomona Natural Bridge is one of my all time favorites in Southern Illinois. I’ve been many times bringing friends with me and of course my camera. I’ve almost always had the place to myself. This area features a short half mile loop that crosses over the sandstone Natural Bridge. The bridge is fairly large, about 90 feet across, and the woods mean you don’t see it until you’re quite close. These characteristics make it hard to photograph, but gives you that wonderful feeling of being in the middle of nowhere without having to travel far.

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Getting there isn’t hard once you know. The very first time I tried to find it was on one of my photography drives and I turned seeing the state sign. Driving south down 127, you see a sign advertising the Pomona Natural Bridge and the unincorporated community Pomona (an intersection with a general store). Turn right at the intersection with the general store. This road curves left or goes straight onto a gravel road. Take the gravel road. The first time I started down this, I thought I had made a wrong turn. It felt like someone’s driveway and there are always some dogs that come out to see me. Drive about 2 miles on this road, which feels a lot longer due to your slow speeds on the gravel. Then you’ll see the parking area for the Natural Bridge.

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The hike is an easy one. Only half a mile loop with the bridge at the far side. The area is classic to Southern Illinois filled with trees, rocks, bluffs, and foliage. During the Spring, the drive is lined with wildflowers.

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The southern part of the trail crosses over a trickle of a stream that runs down the side of the cliff and under the bridge.
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Right past the bridge on the west side is a path to walk down under the bridge.

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The area around Pomona is also quite beautiful. I have explored the fields and country roads many times. Pomona Winery is in the area with all delicious non-grape fruit wines. Little Grand Canyon is in this area too, but it’s still on my to-explore list.

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