Friday, January 5, 2018

CHIMNEY ROCK STATE PARK EXPEDITION!

This "tee shirt message" could be a synopsis of my experience at Chimney Rock State Park----I hiked it and I liked it!  This photo is also a reminder to mention that even though the park is full of hiking trails, and many remote, seldom visited parts, it DOES have a large gift shop, full of every kind of souvenir a tourist could need!

Since the park consists of 6,807 acres, there are various modalities of transportation available.  Shortly after you go through the park gate where the entrance fee is collected, there is a large field where one can park their car, then hop on this shuttle bus.  This was my first visit to the park, so I did not know until afterward, that individuals can also take their private vehicle up the narrow, curvy road (full of switchbacks!) to a parking area about midway up the mountain.  However, having seen the bus-private vehicle encounters on my ride, I think I would still choose the free bus shuttle!

In years past, there was an elevator that carried passengers (for an additional fee) up the equivalent of 26 stories, to the Sky Lounge.  However, on the day I visited, the elevator was not in service, and according to the park's official website ( www.ncparks.gov/chimney-rock-state-park ), the elevator will be out of service until further notice. 

Even though the indoor Sky Lounge was closed, there is a delightful outdoor dining deck available, where one can enjoy the light meals, snacks, and beverages available from the concession stand at this level. 

The park is named after the most notable feature, which is the 315 foot granite monolith rock formation, shown in this photo.

In 1902, Dr. Lucius B. Morse purchased 64 acres at Chimney Rock Mountain.  The Morse family owned and operated Chimney Rock Park as a privately managed park until 2006.  In 2007, the state of North Carolina and the Morse family reached an agreement, so now it is fully owned by the state. 

Seeing Chimney Rock at the angle shown in this photo reminded me of The Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Italy.  When I was a teenager, I got to climb to the top of the Tower of Pisa, and I was determined that now as a "keen ager", I was going to make it to the top of Chimney Rock, as well!

This photo shows the "stairway bridge" that connects the edge of the mountain to the granite monolith. 

For those with claustrophobia, this optional stairway through some of the crevices will probably be something they will choose NOT to take!

There are over 500 stairs in the Outcroppings Trail, according to the brochure.  I will have to take their word for it, because I lost count!

The top of Chimney Rock is fairly large, as shown by this photo, and I did not see any signs restricting how many people could be at the top at any one time.  Likewise, I did not see any signs restricting how long a person could stay at the top.  However, I wanted to explore additional aspects of the mountain, so I walked around on top to get several photos, and then started scoping out additional locations to hike to that are visible from the top of the monolith, but not visible down at the bottom of the mountain. 

I call this photo of me, the "Post Card From The Edge".  To get the photo, I handed my camera to another tourist, who was standing on a rock above me.  At the time, I was so focused on looking up at the photographer who was taking the picture, that I was not paying attention to what was behind me.  It was not until I saw the photo, that it made me feel a little bit rattled about being just inches from the edge of the bluff!  Very thankful that railing is there to keep me from going backwards!


If you recall that a mile is 5,280 feet, then you will know that the top of Chimney Rock, sticks up about one half mile into the air.  But alas, visitors can go to even higher elevations, if desired.  This photo shows an indentation on the bluff at the left, where one can hike to yet another viewpoint.  That little indentation is called the "Opera Box".


This is what Chimney Rock looks like when one is standing in the Opera Box. 

With its long park bench and gorgeous views, it is tempting to spend one's entire time in this scenic location.  However, since I only had one day to spend in the park, I rested a while, then continued my upward trek!


Another prominent geological formation is a "balanced rock" that has the name "Devil's Head", as seen on the left side of this photo.

When I posted this photo (without its identity listed) on social media and asked the question, "If you could name this formation, what would you call it?", the name "Cardinal Rock" got the most votes.  What would YOU call it??????

Another popular stop along the trail is "Exclamation Point", with an elevation about 200 feet higher than the top of Chimney Rock.  Seems like, if they wanted to really confuse people, instead of spelling out the words "exclamation point", they could have just put "!!!!!" on the sign!

I am so thankful that I had a beautiful, sunny autumn day for my visit to this incredible location!  Another helpful website in planning your trip to this area is www.chimneyrockpark.com , as it provides information on lodging, restaurants, and other items of interest to tourists. 

Part of the park is popular with climbers, and is called the "Rumbling Bald Climbing Access".  Perhaps these boys are practicing for a climbing competition scheduled to be held there on February 17, 2018, called the "Rumble Bouldering Competition".


After the hiker goes past Exclamation Point, there is the additional Skyline Trail that will take you through additional woods and bluffs on top of the mountain. 

The lake one can see from the mountain elevation is Lake Lure, and was the location where the Dirty Dancing water scenes were filmed, where the couple practiced the "lift" they would use in their dance competition. ( The only reason I know this is because I went to a Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ) program at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia, which was also one of the filming locations for the movie. )

With as many stairs as there are to climb, and the absence of water fountains on the way up, there is a risk that someone can have a health issue.  That is exactly what happened on the day I was there.  As our shuttle bus was making its trip up the mountain when I first arrived, I heard a dispatcher tell the driver to be on the lookout for an ambulance that was headed up the mountain road, because a visitor had passed out on top of Chimney Rock.  As I was walking up the stairs, emergency personnel were slowly, but surely, carrying the lady down the 500 stairs (remember I said at the beginning the elevator was out of service?)  .

There was a virtual "train" of first responders involved---two or three going in front of the cart to clear out people going up the stairs, plus two men on the front of the cart and two men on the back of the cart, a park ranger following the group, then several members of the lady's family, following all of them!

Seeing the way this very specialized piece of equipment had played such a vital role in transporting a patient down such a long stairway, I was curious as to how long they have been available to medical personnel.  I worked in a four-story hospital until 2000, and never saw such a specialized evacuation cart, for use when there was no electricity for the elevators.  Perhaps they have come about since the tragic lessons learned when the World Trade Center in New York was attacked.

These three Emergency Response Vehicles were waiting at the bottom of the stairs, to transport the patient to the appropriate medical facilities.  I am thankful I live in a country where there are dedicated individuals who unselfishly put themselves in harm's way, in order to help others.  Although they may not realize it, they are actually involved in a God-ordained "ministry to the sick", and provide a visual aid to help me remember my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse from Philippians 2:13 that says, "For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his purpose."  I want to say a big THANK YOU to all those health care workers who provide care to those in need!  By the grace of God, I was able to make it to the summit of the mountain, and back down again, on my own two feet, and that gave me MILES OF SMILES!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

CHRISTMAS LIGHTED BOAT PARADE EXPEDITION!

This was my favorite, of all the boats I saw in the 2017 Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama, Christmas Lighted Boat Parade.  Based on its appearance, it might be called a "Floating Castle"!
A Christmas parade usually includes some version of Santa Claus, and this water-based event was no exception!


Perhaps a lighted Christmas boat parade  is no big deal to residents of coastal regions, but for someone who was born, raised, and stayed in the land-locked state of Arkansas, it is something I have longed to see.  Therefore, I will start this blog with some photos of my main reason for wanting to make this trip---the lighted boat parade!


The cabin of this boat was COMPLETELY covered in a "Light Drapery"!
This photo of several lighted boats lined up close together, is one I found on the Internet, before attending the event.  In reality, when the parade is in progress, the boats cannot stay that close together.  I have learned this fact in previous travels to the "Tall Ships" Parade of Sail in Tacoma, and the "Tall Stacks" paddlewheel boat parade in Cincinnati.  However, it makes for a great photo op, when you can see the boats close together, before the necessary spacing that occurs when the parade is in progress!
We knew the after-dark, lighted boat parade would be no longer than an hour or so in length; therefore, the group I hike and kayak with decided, "Since everyone was making this 12 hour drive to get to Gulf Shores, why not take advantage of the abundant waterways, and take along the kayaks??!"  Fortunately, one of the group has a large trailer that was adapted to carry the individual kayaks!  Likewise, another person in the group had a vehicle large enough to transport those who did not want to drive their cars to Gulf Shores.





This group of ladies has traveled and kayaked together so much, they have the loading process perfected to "artistry in motion"!  ( If the reader is interested in learning about the paddling this group did on the Fish River and Magnolia River on our trip last year, you can check out the article I published about those trips in my blog archives, under the date of December 29, 2016, with the title, "Gulf Shores Expedition!".)


The trip to Gulf Shores was a Christmas gift I gave myself, and explains my  uplifted arms of praise and gratitude in this photo.  Diana took the photo whenever our group went to "The Wharf" in Orange Beach, to see their Christmas light show.


The Wharf ( www.alwharf.com ) has a light show throughout the year, and our visit there enabled us to see the version of the spectacular show ( called "Spectra") with a Christmas and holiday music choreography.  It was a visual feast for the eyes, and an auditory feast for the ears, and a spiritual feast for the soul, as we remember we are celebrating the birth of Jesus---God's gift to mankind! For the show, the palm trees "come alive" with color and sound!


There was more to the trip than kayaking and light shows, however.  We also did some hiking!  This photo shows some of our group, as we started out to explore the all-paved Coyote Crossing Trail.  



Just a short distance down the Coyote Trail, we came to the headquarters for the Gulf Shores State Park.  I was delighted to see they sold the metal hiking medallions that I collect for my wooden hiking stick. Yippee!!  This meant I could have another one of my "Get Hammered" ceremonies, as I diligently work at using the tiny nails to attach the medallion to my hiking stick.  Information on this park, as well as the numerous other hiking trails of the county, can be found on the all-encompassing website, www.thebeachiscalling.org .


This is a photo of the paddlers that paddled across Little Lagoon, to the restaurant where we all met for lunch.

Whenever
I made this same trip last winter, the temperature was in the seventies, and we were all wearing water shoes to access our kayaks.  However, the chilly temperatures on this day, made it necessary to have knee-high waterproof boots.  Since I never used the waterproof boots I carried down to Gulf Shores last year, I decided not to bring them this year.  The lack of boots gave me a good "excuse" not to do this paddle, although the truth is, I am a wimp when it comes to paddling in very cold weather!

The kayakers give the "Paddler's Salute", as they wait for Diana to get her stand-up paddle board dislodged from its muddy mooring spot, at our delightful lunch-time location of The Original Oyster House ( www.originaloysterhouse.com )



For almost twenty years, I have had "Lighted Christmas Boat Parade" on my "travel radar screen", as an event I wanted to see.  My first attempt was to attend one on the California coast, but alas, the airplane ride that I needed to get there got cancelled.  The cousin I was going to visit while in California tried to make me feel better by saying there was so much fog on the night of the event, that the boats in the parade were barely visible. My second attempt was a trip to the Louisiana coast, but it too, got cancelled, because the group I planned to meet up with in Louisiana, unexpectedly, "dissolved"!  I have been hoping and praying for a full year, that the one I was invited to attend in the Gulf Shores area would be the one that actually came to fruition!  And thanks to the grace of God, and the hospitality of a hiker/kayaker friend who has a second home in Gulf Shores, my dream came true!  The photo of the lighted boat pictured above, shows that, thankfully, fog was not a problem for the Alabama event!  Likewise, this photo below of our jubilant group, as we are in our spot, along the parade-route waterway, indicates this "hiking/kayaking affinity group" did not "dissolve".  In fact, it "solidified" into a fantastic group travel experience!
The photo of our group at left,  was taken in Dee's living room in Gulf Shores.  I have included this photo, so you can see what the ladies look like, whenever they are NOT covered from head to toe, with several layers of cold weather apparel and waterproof outer garments!

Another one of our activities was hiking the trail at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge ( 251-540-7720 ).  Despite the rainy conditions, we were able to complete the six-mile loop trail, and get some much-needed exercise to burn off a few calories! (Did I mention the food we had on this trip was abundant and delicious!)

Although these hikers might be called the "Three Hunchbacks of Notre Dame", it is actually what our group looks like, when they cover up their backpacks with waterproof coats and ponchos.


Ellen S. took this photo of me and three of the other ladies on Dee's porch, as we started out for our Saturday morning hike. 



The reason we are so bundled up is because it SNOWED the night before!  The startled-looking owl design on Dee's sliding glass doors to her deck, is how us WHO ladies ( our "mascot" symbol is an owl ) felt, when we woke up Saturday morning to see a VERY RARE Gulf Shores snowfall!

Even though the white stuff in the photo at left could pass for snow, because of the way the ladies are so "bundled up" against the weather, it is actually just the sand dunes we hiked through, to finally reach the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

Diana took the photo below of me with her smart phone, showing the Gulf waters in the background, through the hole of a shell, found along the beach during our hike.









Dee had it planned so that two cars would go find a parking space along the parade route, about mid-afternoon.  That is because if you wait too late on Saturday, there will be very limited parking.  We used the time we had to wait, to have a "Tail Gate" (or in this case, a "Sail Gate") party!
The food was set up on a cot, covered with a table cloth, and complete with Christmas lights!

Whoever said "Food always tastes better outside" was right on target. 

Even though it had warmed up enough to melt the snow from the previous night, it was still VERY COLD!  But we were prepared!  They say, "There is no bad weather, only people who are not dressed appropriately for whatever the weather brings you."  That is why I can say, "The weather outside was clear as a bell and delightful!"

The parade route goes along Portage Creek, a man-made canal, that eventually connects with the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000 mile  inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.  It starts in Boston, goes around the tip of Florida, and ends in Brownsville, Texas.  As we waited for the parade to start, we got to see some of the large commercial barges and tugboats that use this vital passage. 


A nice thing about a winter-time lighted boat parade is that it starts getting dark about 4:45 pm, so one does not have to wait very long!  If being out after dark in a new location is not something that "Floats Your Boat",  there will be a DAYTIME boat parade along this route on February 13, 2018, ("Fat Tuesday"), as a part of the Mardi Gras celebration .  Check out the area's excellent website at www.gulfshores.com .



I think Dee, shown in this photo
, with her knee high waterproof boots, has the spiritual gift of hospitality .    It is illustrated by the fact that she and her husband have made a living, by providing lodging to folks for decades.  When they lived in Missouri, it took the form of a mobile home park.  In Arkansas near the shores of Norfork Lake, it has taken the form of an RV Park, where vacationers can find lodging.  They also hosted a foreign exchange student from a European country for several months.  Now that they have a second home in Southern Alabama, they have hosted our hiking/kayaking group, plus numerous other friends and family members.  She has really demonstrated the words of Hebrews 13:2 that says, "Remember to welcome strangers to your homes.  There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it."  Having Dee as a friend provides me with a "visual aid" of what I need to strive for.  THANK YOU DEE!!   She, and her hospitality, gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia   ( p.s. I am no "angel" as referenced in the Bible verse, but the more I get to know the ladies in this group, the more convinced I am that they have been "angels" to me!)