Category: Travel (page 1 of 2)

Artober 29: A wee bit more adventure and some middle ground

It’s starting to come together! So far, I’m really liking this one. There is, of course, still time to ruin it. Here’s a link to the tutorial in case you want to follow along.

I came home today after a grand (restful) adventure in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I still haven’t thoroughly gone through the photos on my good camera, but I’ll do that soon and post them. I’m sure they’ll be lovely, as it’s sooooo beautiful up there. Fall colors are a wee bit past peak, which is interesting because they don’t seem to be anywhere near peak around here. Or maybe we don’t have a peak.

Anyway, I had a difficult time tearing myself away from the mountains, so I made one more stop on my way home at Lake Degray, which is about 20 miles from Hot Springs and on my way home to Shreveport. I hiked the 1-mile Island Trail, which had a few outlets to the lake itself, which is stunning, especially on a clear day like today.

And the required panorama:

Those good camera photos are going to be amazing. I’ll do my best to deal with them tomorrow. For now, here’s the full view of painting progress:

(It’s so nice to be home and using a real computer so WordPress actually works. Sigh.)

Artober 28: Adventures and progress

Oh so many adventures. I started my day with a tasty breakfast at IHOP, then headed into Hot Springs National Park for some much needed Nature Time. I stopped by the Visitors Center for a trail map, then headed up what I’d read was an easy trail called Dead Chief Trail. Except it turned out that it wasn’t really Dead Chief Trail but a shortcut STRAIGHT UP the mountain to the top. I got almost half a mile up (there was never a break!), and then had to sit down because I felt terrible. I sat there for a few minutes, feeling like I was gonna puke, and then I puked. There: I’ve puked in a national park. That should be on one of those Facebook get-to-know-me questionnaires. Anyway, after that I felt a little better and eventually headed straight back down to the safety of my car. I spent a couple hours recovering around Bathhouse row and then headed in my car back up the mountain to the Mountain Tower, where I took a bunch of what I’m sure are lovely photos but which are currently stowed on my good camera’s SD card. (The only time I wish having a laptop is when I travel, which isn’t often enough to justify getting one. I have my fancy desktop sitting at home, and an iPad will work as long as I don’t do something crazy like try to post to WordPress. Sigh.)

Anyway, I took said pictures up the mountain tower and then had a lovely hike around the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. It turned into a pretty good day.

After all that, I headed back to my hotel room for some surrious relaxation. And eventually a hamburger. And progress on this totally unrelated painting I’m working on:

Now, to sit here and stare at the internet (or to paint something else?) until it’s time for bed. I’ll be headed back to Shreveport tomorrow, but I think I’ll have a drive around Lake DeGray on my way home. I hear it’s lovely over there.

 

Artober 27: RETREAT!

(Side note: ZOMFG the WordPress iPad app is BROKEN! UGH!)

Aaaand by retreat I mean a little weekend trip to Hot Springs BY MYSELF, specifically sans puppy. Palmer, the Most Fantastic Person in the Whole World, is at home babysitting so I can relax and go hiking for two days. Y(es, I know he’s the Best Husband Ever.

Anyway, I drove up here after work and spent a few minutes sketching and painting this sky for a watercolor that is wholly unrelated to my present circumstances. It’s from another tutorial by The frugal Crafter. We’ll see if I finish it tomorrow or put it off and paint something more like the BEAUTIFUL FALL COLORS presently surrounding me. Here’s the whole shebang so far:

There is, of course, Plenty of Time to ruin it.

In Other News, I’m safely installed in a hotel room in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

It’s lovely, except for the two-plus yippy dogs across the hall and the baby directly above me. Really, though, It’s quiet enough. Tomorrow, I’ll be hiking in the (COLD) national park.

A cold front went through today, causing temperatures to dip to freezing tonight, and it made for a spectacular sunset (which, of course, features the neighboring hotel):

Hopefully I’ll be able to catch the whole thing tomorrow night. My plan tonight was to go to a lakeside restaurant that’s supposed to feature an amazing sunset, but I was just too lazy. And there happens to be a pretty decent local restaurant right in front of my hotel called Bleu Monkey. I’ll have a hard time not just walking over there tomorrow night.

All told, my little retreat is off to a most excellent start. I’ll be hiking for most of the day tomorrow, and I’m contemplating a drive around Lake DeGray before I head home on Sunday. I hear it’s pretty nice to look at, and it was a pretty spectacular scene to drive by on my way here.

Okay, off to some serious Relaxation Time.

Daffodils (and quilts and table settings?) at the 2017 Jonquil Jubilee

Around here, Spring brings the beginning of Small Town Festival Season, and I, for one, always look forward to it. These festivals range from tiny (like this one) to pretty darn big (the Ruston Peach Festival, for instance). Last year, I made it to Ruston and to one more: the Wildflower Trails Festival in Linden, Texas, which from what I could tell had neither wildflowers nor trails, though I’m pretty sure I was wrong about that one. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Anyway. The Jonquil Jubilee is held in the tiny town of Gibsland, Louisiana. According to Wolfram Alpha, the population is currently 947. I’m sure that at some point in my life I had visited Gibsland, as it’s only about 15 miles from Minden, but I didn’t remember a thing about it. My mom and I made the 45-minute trek over there last Saturday.

When we got there, we thought these few tents might be all there was to the festival – but we were wrong! The real festival was at a table in the middle of the street.

There, you could purchase a map and a wristband for $10 that would direct you to about 10 sites around town for the rest of the fun. There were some interesting stops, but I’ll get to those later. First, it was time for lunch!

From what I could tell, there were only two choices: this restaurant, called The Gibsland Grill, or a tent outside selling fried food. I figured we’d try the actual restaurant. The only menu choices available for the festival were gumbo, pulled pork sammiches, and chicken salad sammiches. I chose the chicken salad and was a wee bit surprised to get this:

I ate the sammich (first plain white bread I’ve had in a while!) and the chips but skipped the green gelatinous (I’m guessing here) pineapple. I obviously made the wrong choice. Also: I’m sure they offer better food when there aren’t so many people in town.

We also checked out the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum – or, at least, the gift shop. It was a little…scary in there. If you paid them some moneys, they’d let you see the museum, which was behind a fake wall and, well, NOPE. I don’t dare take pictures in there because I was sure I’d be shot for it. Here’s my mom in front of it:

I took the photo before we went inside. Urgh. Turns out there’s a second Bonnie & Clyde museum about half a block away that appears to be owned by the city and looks much less terrifying. Also: far less interesting.

As a side note, there was a bathtub sale at the end of the street.

At that point, I think we’d both had enough of the downtown portion of the festival, so we put up the money for the map and wristbands and headed out. Our first stop was the Methodist Church, which offered a quilt show.

 

Then, it was on to the Baptist Church, which had some very interesting “Tablescapes,” a hobby(?) I’d never heard of.

Next was a railroad museum in Mount Lebanon, the next village over. They had quite an interesting small collection.

And then, finally, we found the daffodils. Turns out they had peaked a few weeks before (thanks, climate change), but they were still lovely and beautiful. We went to two flowery sites: Oak Grove Farm and a private residence. First, the farm:

And last but certainly not least, a private property near Gibsland.

After that, we had to head back to Shreveport. Sure, it was a gray day for a flower festival, but the temperature was nice and it wasn’t rainy. We both had a good time, and I definitely plan on going back next year. Hopefully the weather will cooperate more and we’ll have an actual winter so the festival timing will be right.

A note about Badlands National Park

Several national park rangers have made it clear that they disapprove of the current political climate, especially with threats to keep the EPA hushed, sell off public lands, and keep citizens uninformed (misinformed?) about climate change. The park to start it all was Badlands, and it happens to be one of my very favorites. I figured I’d share some photos since lots of you probably haven’t been there.

It’s been several years since I’ve been to the Badlands. According to our friends at Flickr, I took this photo in 2006. I think I’ve only been there once since, in 2010. It’s situated about an hour southwest of Rapid City, SD, which is in the southwestern corner of the state. That’s also the same vicinity as Mount Rushmore, though the landscape looks entirely different. The mountains pretty much start just on the western edge of Rapid City, the very quickly end with some smaller hills extending into the flat prairie you see surrounding the Badlands.

Suddenly, that prairie cuts off, and it almost feels like you’ve teleported to the surface of the moon.

The National Park has a windy road that snakes through the canyons and around the higher edges with overlooks and interpretive signs. There’s also a small but impressive visitor center with a museum and a gift shop. Somehow, I’ve only been inside once.

The rest of the photos are ones I took the last time I was there, in 2010. I took these with an iPhone and used a filter in Lightroom. I wish I remembered what it was called because I still like how they turned out.

Puddles in Pensacola

Before our weekend trip to Pensacola, Florida, Penny was already an interstate traveler, as she visited the Wildflower Trails Festival in Linden, Texas (at which there were no wildflowers or trails) in April. This, though, was a much longer trip – hours longer, even, than our trip to Mandeville earlier this year. We took the long way there, down I-49 to I-10 because there’s a dog park right off the interstate in Baton Rouge, and I wanted to give Penny a break.

We spent somewhere around 8 hours on the road, and by the time we made it to Pensacola, we were both exhausted. We were very glad to see Palmer, though, who was working for there for two weeks. It was around 6 o’clock by the time we got there, so we headed almost directly to dinner at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille, which welcomed us with excellent food, a lovely sunset, and a bowl of ice water for Penny.

The next morning, we headed to the beach, where Penny found her true love: big puddles of water. She was so excited and pulled so hard to get out into the surf that Palmer had to hold her because she was about to pull me in.

We couldn’t go to any beach in Pensacola, though. We had to go to the Dog Beach. It was really nice, though, because there were no fences and it was just a section of normal beach bounded with signs. The caveat was that dogs were supposed to stay on-leash. Not that half of them did. Penny, though, followed the rules.

After tiring ourselves out at the beach, we went to Shaggy’s for lunch. I ate a pile of super-fresh fish and had a local beer. I could get used to eating by the water.

26668270503_2e011f5d63_kAfter lunch, we took Penny to another dog park, this time inland, so we she’d really be exhausted. She had a great time and made a new friend! A couple brought their two dogs, one of which was a lab mix, and he and Penny ran around and around until it was time to head back to the hotel for a serious nap.

We had dinner at the Sunset Grille on Perdido Key. There were a few too many children for my taste, but the food was good and the sunset was amazing. They chose their name well. The sunset alone was worth the 45-minute trek from the hotel.

The next morning, Palmer had to do laundry, so Penny and I paid an early visit to the dog park. We played Ball, and she ran around with the other dogs like she was a regular.

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Palmer and I decided that Penny needed more beach time. The first time we went, we weren’t wearing swimsuits, so Penny was limited to the shoreline. We had a really nice breakfast at George’s Artisan Bakery and Bistro, picked up some necessities, and headed back out to the dog beach. We had underestimated the ridiculous amount of traffic headed onto Pensacola Beach on a beautiful Sunday. There’s only one bridge over the bay, and it’s a huge bottleneck. It took us well over an hour to get there, so by the time we made it to the island it was time for lunch, and everywhere was crowded. Since our restaurant choices were severely limited because Penny was with us, we ended up back at Shaggy’s and had a good time.

Finally, we were off to the beach, this time with swimsuits, beach towels, and an umbrella. The trade-off to preparedness, though, was no camera and very limited phone use because Sand. Penny bounded into the water as soon as we got there. Palmer took her farther out in the surf, and I guess she got intimidated because she was almost instantly ready to go.

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Luckily, though, she came to her senses and enjoyed herself after that. I, on the other hand, finally came to terms with my absolute hatred of sand. It gets everywhere and it’s hard to clean off. I think Penny will probably be limited to rocky seashores and lakeshores for most of her future, but I’m pretty sure just about any puddle of water will suffice.

After allll of that adventure, we were exhausted again. We’d planned to go to a restaurant/bar called The Oar House, but when we pulled into the parking lot, it was already crowded. Bad music was blaring, and it was full of sun-baked partiers, most of whom were over 50 and generally gross-looking. We decided instantly that it wasn’t the place for us and ended up back at Jaco’s. At least we knew the food was good and they like dogs.

I was so tired of seafood, so I ordered the filet mignon, and it came out in a pool of barbecue sauce? It was good enough, but it tasted more like the sauce than anything else, so I was disappointed. The server said the kitchen must have used the wrong bottle because it was supposed to be steak sauce. They also said the chef was new and was working out the menu, so I’m not sure which was the actual case. So I’ll call that meal adequate.

Penny, however, had an excellent time. She got all of the attention and tasted her first filet mignon! She liked it so much that she refused to eat her puppy food afterward. We watched the sun set, then crashed. I think Palmer and I were both Done for the weekend.

On Monday morning, we took the shorter route home through Mississippi. Penny was so good, but she really hates long car rides. She spent most of the time napping, but every time she’d hear an unusual noise, she’d jump up and look out the windows. Then she’s lean her head against the back seat and look pitiful for several minutes before lying back down. Just before we got to Vicksburg, I stopped in a green area next to a Tractor Supply parking lot to give her a break and let her eat her lunch in relative peace. I think she was grateful.

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When we finally made it home, we were both tired but glad not to be on the road anymore. Penny seemed to have a good time, but it’ll be a while before we take another field trip that involves driving 8 hours each way – maybe even until we make it to the Rocky Mountains, which will hopefully happen next summer.

I should also note that I took most of these photos with my sparkly new camera. It’s a Sony a6000, and I love it. I was planning on getting a new Nikon DSLR because mine is almost ten years old and is totally outdated, but then I stumbled on this new mirrorless trend. They’re smaller than DSLRs but have interchangeable lenses and take photos that I think are just as good. I don’t need a professional-level camera because I’m not a professional, but I wanted a nice mid-grade one. This Sony fits the bill. (A super-duper thank you to Palmer for choosing a most excellent birthday present!)

Here’s a link to the entire Flickr album in case you need to see even more photos.

Tick City, Louisiana (+ a surprise!)

Palmer and I spent most of Saturday hiking Sugar Cane Trail around Caney Lake near Minden, Louisiana. It was a seven-mile proper Trek that didn’t offer much elevation, though it offered more than enough distance. It almost killed us, in fact.

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Okay, not really. We just weren’t quite prepared for how far that was. I generally don’t do more than three miles, which was the farthest Penny had ever gone. Two days later, we’re still sore. It didn’t help that while, for the most part, the trail is well kept up, there was a sizable section that was totally washed out. We ended up off the trail and had to wade through a bunch of mud once we found the blazes. That’s not surprising, I guess, considering how wet it’s been in this area lately.

One good thing: it was my first good opportunity to use the Sparkly New Camera Palmer got me for my birthday. It’s a Sony a6000, and it takes pretty amazing photos.

And then there were the ticks. DEAR GOD, THE TICKS. They were everywhere. We counted at least ten each slowly making their way up our legs, and we found more once we got home. Penny was – and probably still is – covered in them. She was dirty from the (mildly muddy) hike, so Palmer bathed her when we got home. When we discovered that there was Every Tick Ever, we went to PetSmart and bought a tick shampoo, so she got another bath the next morning. Good thing she doesn’t particularly mind baths. Good thing, also, that the’s the most patient dog and would sit for several minutes at a time while I occupied her and Palmer dug ticks out of her ears and fur. Ugh.

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There was also the matter of the snake, to which she seemed as oblivious as I was – until I got maybe three feet from it and screamed bloody murder. I didn’t even realize that it was in this photo until we got home:

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Surriously. We were so grateful when we saw the car. Seven miles is a lot for people (and dogs) only used to three. It was fun, but I’ll be sticking to shorter trails for the time being. I’ll also be upgrading from Deep Woods OFF to the 100% DEET stuff because geez.

Check out the whole Flickr album.

Here’s a video Palmer made chronicling the whole trip:

Oh! And shortly after we did get home, Palmer shuttled me over to what turned out to be a surprise party! I was about 90% clueless and expected to be sitting on a porch with a couple friends, drinking wine and eating Mexican food. Turned out it was an actual party. Happy 35 to me! I have some pretty great friends and an awesome husband. (Of course, I was to busy to take proper photos. Thanks to Palmer for realizing that I might want at least a couple.)

We climbed a mountain!

Okay, that’s kind of a lie. It’s not technically a lie because “mountain” is actual name of the place. This “mountain,” though, really only qualifies as a largish hill. The actual hiking elevation was less than 200 feet, and the whole hill tops out at a whopping 535. So I jumped onto a bench by the sign and acted like I’d just climbed Katahdin. Palmer chose a more reasonable pose.

26870297121_98b78f190d_kOn Sunday, we “climbed” Driskill Mountain, which is just south of Arcadia, Louisiana. It’s the state’s highest point, and it’s just about as underwhelming as you’d expect for the Bayou State. That said, we had a Most Excellent time. Penny was so excited, she couldn’t stay still for long enough to get a good photo. That, and another family appeared from the trees with their own dog in tow, and Penny wanted to play.

It only took us a few minutes to get to the top. There are two trail choices: the main one, which we took, is about 1.9 miles up and back. There’s a second one that weaves through the trees, which are marked with blue blazes. I want to go back to try that trail.

There weren’t many signs along the main trail, but, for the most part, it was crystal clear. Driskill Mountain is private land, but the owners do a great job of keeping it up. There was a tiny bit of mud in a couple of places, but it was easy to get around, and our feet stayed dry. Penny, of course, bounded through every little puddle. There were only to slightly steep places, and Penny was more than willing to pull me right up. The only problem was that she was just as willing to help me get back down, especially since she was following the other dog’s tracks. We really need to work on excitement-pulling.

Almost everything I’ve heard about Driskill Mountain is about its being underwhelming. It’s a “mountain” in Louisiana: how can it be that spectacular? Louisiana makes bayous, not mountains. Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I knew exactly what to expect. Will I go back? Definitely! I want to try that secondary trail. I’ll also probably have a look for other trails in the vicinity, though, as it’s kind of a long drive for such a short hike. Here’s the gpx I recorded (thanks, Alltrails!), a file format I just learned about:

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In other news, Shakespeare also had an excellent day on Sunday:

How had I never been to Walter B. Jacobs Nature Park?

It’s a beautiful day. A clear blue sky and a break from the South’s rainy season. Penny and I had to take advantage of it.

Penny and I go hiking about once a week, but we’re what I call Level One Hikers. The Red River National Wildlife Refuge‘s yellow trail was the longest and nature-iest trail we’d been down, and that one’s completely flat and the grass is mowed regularly.

That’s not the case with the Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park in Blanchard, Louisiana. The trails aren’t mowed because they’re in the woods and not lined with river-plain grass. I think there’s more virginia creeper than anything else. I’m sure there’s a lot of poison ivy, too, though I was trying my best not to see it. Really, I was focusing on trying to spot snakes and keeping an eye on the orb weaver population. Which is massive.

The Caddo Trail, at 1.8 miles, is a great place to desensitize yourself to walking through spiderwebs. They’re everywhere. I had to apologize to a couple of orb weavers for destroying the webs they had constructed directly across the trail. Which also meant that Penny and I were the only people/dogs to hike it today (and probably for the last few days, as it poured rain yesterday morning).

I should probably also mention the mud. Because mud. The trail was full of it. Sure, I’d seen the warnings on TripAdvisor about hiking after a rain, but I was like, it didn’t rain today, so it must be fine. (Actually, I considered driving to Driskill Mountain near Arcadia because I figured, hey, it’s the highest point in Louisiana and must be dry, but it’s sooooo far away.) Yeeeeeah, there was mud everywhere. I’m glad I waterproofed my hiking shoes before I went.

Oh. And, unless it’s bone dry, I strongly suggest wearing actual trail shoes or boots. If I’d been wearing sneakers, I’d have been on my butt a few times.

Also: hot + wet = ALL THE MOSQUITOES. Every single one of them ever. Palmer and I went to a petrified forest in Mississippi last year, and I thought they had a lot of mosquitoes, but damn. I’ll figure out the extent of the damage tomorrow when I’m itching terribly. Which means you should take advantage of the huge box of Deep Woods OFF they have permanently attached to the front of the building. Spray the DEET all over yourself or you’ll regret it. My lousy little DEET-free Cutter didn’t…ahem…cut it.

So you had a terrible time, you say, right? No! We had a most excellent time! This is the naturiest nature I’ve been in since the last time I was in the Black Hills National Forest, which was waaaay too long ago. Walter B. Jacobs is Hiking Level Two, and that’s a great thing for Shreveport/Bossier. We need nature! And sometimes we’re better off if it’s not the regularly-mowed-trail sort. It was only 1.8 miles, but I feel like we accomplished something, if only not being bitten to death by snakes.

And we saw a huge turtle with a spiky tail! It plopped into a stream before I could get a picture of it, but still!

I can’t wait to go again, and I’m sure Penny can’t either. We’re lucky to have a great park like this so close to town, and we should support it. Walter B. Jacobs has programs all the time for people of all ages, and we should all be participating. Have a look at their Facebook page and try to make out there. It’s a half-hour drive that’s totally worth it.

Here’s the park’s trail guide, of which I haven’t seen a good copy online (I guess “good” is relative, as this copy was obviously crumpled in my hands while we hiked):

And here’s a link to the pdf, which you might also find useful.

Let’s try this again…

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while. We’ve had a couple of false starts, but we’re going to get back on track…right?

The truth is that I haven’t been reading much lately. Hardly anything, really. In my defense, I’ve been busy. Besides work, I’ve started a second round of grad school (this one is Thesis Monster-free!), and I have a puppy that I mentioned in the last couple of posts. That doesn’t allow much time for reading unless you count the journal articles I’m assigned for class, and no one wants to hear about those.

So what am I going to do with this book blog, you ask? For now, at least, I’m going to broaden the scope. I’ve been doing some photoblogging elsewhere (here and here if you’re interested), but I decided that my own damn site, which I still pay for, should be home to the primary posts. So here we go. I’ve made a pretty drastic change to the theme that’ll better reflect what is happening here.

There will still be books. I just read Into the Wild, which had been on my Do Not Read List for a long time, and I really enjoyed it. Now I’m trying to get through A Walk in the Woods before a new DeLillo novel comes out on May 3. We’ll see how that goes. I’m also still kind of in the process of reading Redwall, which is super fun. There’s also a game called Stardew Valley, but we won’t talk about that here (except to say that if you like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon and have a PC, jump on it).

Does all this mean I’m back for good? I hope so. It won’t all be about books, and it hopefully won’t be about the dog, either, though you can tell from the featured image that she’s super-cute. She also goes with me everywhere the rules allow her to go.

One of which was the Linden Wildflower Trails Festival this past weekend, which involved neither wildflowers nor trails but did involve free puppies. I’ve posted some photos from that event:

My 35th birthday is coming up, and my lovely husband is getting me a sparkly new camera, so hopefully I’ll be able to spend lots of time taking pictures and posting them here. Most will be of hiking and (hopefully, before it gets too warm) camping. Otherwise, who knows. The school semester is about to end, so I should have a good month of free-ish time on my hands.

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