Karen's Blog

Let's take a walk through a brand new day.

Of course I said, “YES!”

On a Tuesday afternoon, I received a text. “Want to go camping in the mountains of North Carolina?” Let’s see…the mountains, fresh air, hiking, streams, and a chance to spend the weekend with my favorite daughter. That would be a resounding, “YES!”

We started our journey with a stop in Cades Cove, Tennessee. The drive through the cove is always a favorite and a chance to experience America during a simpler time. The views are never ending and we almost always spot bear and deer somewhere along the drive. We saw both but could only get a photo of a very patient deer.

After leaving Cades Cove, we drove to Pigeon Forge where we spent the night and had the opportunity to eat at a restaurant with exceptional food. If you find yourself hungry in this town, stop at Bullfish Grill and get the cilantro lime chicken. It is divine! The homemade bread is addictive.

Now, for the reason we came. The camping trip. We drove to Topton, North Carolina to join the Trail Dames at Appletree Group Campground in the Nantahala Forest.

It is a campground designed for more than 125 people but there were less than 20 Trail Dames so we were able to get our favorite spot…a bit of land by the creek. Sleeping to the gentle sounds of the creek is heaven.

We endured a night of rain but the next day was gorgeous! A perfect day for a hike. We settled on the Bartram Trail which took us on a trek right alongside a stream. Mikella had chosen the trail and invited a fellow Trail Dame, Tiffany, to come along for the hike.

Mikella picking blackberries
Me and my girl

It was an enjoyable hike only cut short by a huge felled tree that had us saying…Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Guess we will turn around and go back the way we came. It was ok because we had something very important to do.

Take off our shoes….

Hang our hammocks…

Climb into our hammock….

Oops! She missed!

Relax…

And snooze!

It was a short nap because we had to get up to make dinner and enjoy a nice evening fire.

Around the fire, there was a discussion as to whether we’d like to climb up to Wayah Bald to see sunrise the next morning. It sounded great at 9 pm and we were all in. At 5 am, it didn’t seem quite as exciting. But, these two ladies got up and navigated our way in the dark to catch that sunrise.

Wayah Bald Observatory

It was worth the trip. Beautiful views.

Those are clouds!

Mikella insisted that I take a picture in my “outfit” for seeing sunrise. I threw a khaki dress on over my leggings and shirt that I slept in. But, then I was cold so I threw on my long sleeve aqua fishing shirt. I was still cold so I threw on my fuschia colored jacket and ran out into the dark without brushing my hair. When I saw the picture she took, I knew why she was laughing at my “outfit”. Before you judge…remember that there are no mirrors in the woods!

As the sun rose and we began to look around, we realized that the Bartram Trail and the Appalachian Trail meet here on Wayah Bald. We retraced the steps where Copper and David would have hiked as they made their way to Maine on the A.T.

Follow the yellow blaze for the Bartram Trail and follow the white blaze for the Appalachian Trail. Here is where they come together.
The trail
Flowers along the A.T.

After enjoying sunrise, we made our way back to camp to pack up for home. It had been a wonderful few days spent with one of my favorite people on earth.

My girl!

Two unexpected gifts

Waking up in Crater Lake National Park with the sun beaming through my window was quite a different scene from yesterday’s big fat snowflakes. What a gorgeous day!

I couldn’t wait to see the lake again to see how it had changed with the difference in lighting. When I had my first glance, I realized what a gift yesterday had been. I had seen the lake in winter and today I was seeing it in spring. Two days…two seasons.

I still can’t believe the hues of blue
Wizard Island
Can you see the hole in top of the crater?
Looks like diamonds sparkling on the water

Unfortunately, today was my last day in the park and I chose to exit through the North Entrance so that I could complete the West Rim Drive. As often happens, the north is colder and more frozen. It certainly was the case in this park. But, again, beauty abounds in nature in many forms.

June 14th and this is the depth of the snow on the West Rim

As the exit to the park grew closer and I was feeling sad about leaving, I almost missed my second gift.

I wheeled in to see what was there.

I had the opportunity to see where David would come out of the woods in Crater Lake NP!

I knew that he would walk right behind Mazama Cabins and then snake around the Lodge and up along the West Rim as the map above shows. What I didn’t know is that he would come out right by the road.

This is where he will come out of the woods
Maybe this Log is where he will stop to eat lunch
And, maybe he will see this strange tree

I couldn’t stand it. I just had to hike a little on this trail just to see what he might see. It is going to be a beautiful journey.

David will walk 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and 33 of the most beautiful miles will be right through this park.

I exited the park toward Diamond Lake and stopped for one last snow covered shot of Mt. Bailey. What a great place for a picnic.

The last stretch of road along Oregon’s Scenic Byway followed a stream for many miles. With the window down, the lull of the water, the wind in my hair and the smell of fresh clean air, I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect ending to my journey with two very unexpected gifts included.

My luck finally ran out.

Since I started this journey in early June going north through California, my days have been gloriously sunny and beautiful. Today, my luck ran out.

More about that later.

I started my journey from Mt. Shasta this morning and for the first time since I left home had a proper breakfast. It was delightful. Being full and ready for a big day, I headed out to see Lake Siskiyou. Following the GPS, my route encouraged me to turn right on the North Shore Road and this beautiful Wagon Creek Bridge was my first point of interest. The bridge allows for a loop trail around the lake.

Wagon Creek Bridge from a distance
Close up view of bridge over Lake Siskiyou
Lake Siskiyou

Leaving the lake, I took Forest Road 26 to get lost for awhile in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. I wasn’t literally lost. Just lost in my thoughts and the beauty of the land. I didn’t know where the road would end but I was enjoying the ride.

Forest Road 26
Lots of little streams along the way

Coming off of the Forest Road, I headed towards Crater Lake National Park and just happened to come upon a little town who has found a way to make some money. I won’t spoil it by saying the words, I’ll let you see for yourself in the photos.

Yep, that is really the name of the town.
This is their souvenir shirt

After passing through the town, I continued on via the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway through even more beautiful scenery before entering Crater Lake National Park.

I could stay right here forever.

Just a few minutes later, I came upon the Southern Entrance to Crater Lake National Park

I’m happy to be here.

Notice the bright blue skies in the last picture? Look what I found as I continued to drive up toward the rim of the crater. Total surprise!

Snow!

There wasn’t much to see when I got to the rim where I SHOULD be able to see Crater Lake. Guess what I saw? FOG! Not a glimpse of the huge lake. The lake that is the deepest in the United States at 1,943 feet.

This is the lodge shrouded in fog.

Crater Lake is where my luck ran out. I had driven all the way from Southern California to Oregon to see fog. Bummer! The folks at the lodge said that this was expected for the next two days along with rain and snow. So, I went to bed with little hope of seeing the lake and woke up to see big fat flakes of snow coming down right outside my cabin window. I must admit that I ran outside like a child to see the majesty of it all. It was beautiful!

You should be able to see the lake behind me; but, nothing but snow and fog.

I spent the morning in the lodge hoping beyond hope that the sun would come out and let me get just a little peek at what I had driven so far to see. Instead, it kept snowing and snowing and snowing.

Then, at 2:15 pm, my miracle came. The sun came out, dissipated the fog, and the snow stopped. Wow, just wow!

Look at all the shades of blue. These photos don’t begin to do it justice.

Good things really do come to those who wait. Even if it takes sitting by a window in the lodge for 4 hours trying to believe in a miracle.

Then, at precisely 3:02, the lake was shrouded in fog and the snow began to fall.

The fog covering the lake. Compare to the same picture above.

For 47 minutes, I saw one of the most beautiful sites in the world. I am blessed. Now, it can snow, snow, snow. Mother Nature, I don’t mind a bit. 😊

A very memorable day

Do you remember when you were young and often said, “I can’t wait till I get old enough to….”. Well, today, I had an “I’m finally old enough” moment. I drove my car to the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park and announced to the park ranger that I would like to purchase a Senior Citizen Lifetime National Park Pass. I said, “I am so excited to be old enough to get one!” He laughed and said, “I’m happy for you”. His comment was very anticlimactic for an event I have waited 63 years for!

After driving from Lodi, California where I had a very pleasant lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years, I made my way Mineral Pass.

Mineral Pass has Highlands Ranch Lodge and the Village at Children’s Meadow as an option for lodging. The lodge is beautiful but the Village was practical so I’m sure you know which I chose. The meadow was very inviting with wide open spaces and beautiful horses.

I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to invite Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables to picnic with me.

Upon entering the park, from the Southwest side, I realized again that the park was going to be fairly void of visitors. But, a nice lady stopped behind me and asked if she could take my picture.

The Kohm Ya-mah-nee Visitor Center was closed due to Covid-19, but a masked Park Ranger was available toanswer questions.

The first point of interest in the park is the Sulphuric Works area where mud pots send steam into the air along with a very stinky sulphuric smell. NASA is working with Lassen NP to study microorganisms that can survive in the thermal mud pots. They may also explain life in other universes such as Mars. I learned that this study is called astrobiology. A new term for me.

Leaving the mud pots, the roads snake and wind as the altitude increases. Then, comes a nice surprise of gorgeous snow!

Even Emerald Lake still looks emerald in its frozen state. And yes, that is a fisherman trying to get a bite under the ice.

Driving around the mountain brought more and more beautiful views. Upon arriving at Kings Creek, I got the perfect shot of Lassen Peak.

Driving further down the mountain, I came upon Summit Lake and found a couple in a blow up raft who had the entire lake to themselves.

At this point, my homemade cranberry walnut bread and turkey sandwich laden with cream cheese and cranberry sauce was calling my name. Manzanita Lake seemed the perfect spot to have a picnic lunch with the ducks, the fish and the HUGE blue jays.

After lunch, I wanted to check out the Manzanita Lake Cabins. These are camping cabins with no water or electricity. They looked nice though. This is one of two places that you can stay in the park. The other is at Drakesbad Guest Ranch.

Exiting the park, I couldn’t help but think about what a beautiful walk David was going to have when he arrives in Lassen sometime in August. Neither was it lost on me that I had driven to Lassen in 3 days and it would take him 3 months to walk there!

As I entered the town of Old Station, I had been told that the PCT was just .03 off the highway. I just had to go take a look! The first picture is where David will be coming FROM and the 2nd photo is where he will be walking TO when he arrives in Old Station. So, I walked a bit on both sides so that I could tease him about my hiking the PCT in Lassen National Forest before he did!😜

It was time to be back on the road again to head to my next destination: Mt. Shasta. Hwy. 89 took me right to it. The view was fabulous!

When I opened the door to my hotel room, this is the view from my window.

It has been a good day.

Pinnacles

In my quest to visit all of the US National Parks, I made my way from Ventura Beach to Pinnacles National Park right outside of Soledad, California.

It was a gorgeous day for a 4 hour drive from Ventura to Pinnacles NP. The Hwy. 101 drive took me through mountains, steep grades, the Salinas River Valley and through agricultural bottomlands including pimento pepper fields and vast wine vineyards.

Arriving in Soledad, I learned that it was named after the 13th Mission established in California and is known as the most technologically advanced and economically productive agricultural region and is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World”. It was a beautiful green (and purple) drive. Can’t forget the fields of radicchio!

After passing through Soledad, the road into the park is very solitary and narrow and often becomes one way as it twists and turns.

The road into the park

The most surprising thing about the park was that I was the only one there. The park had just reopened on the western side.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot.

The park has a strong desert feel and then opens up into these craggy rock pinnacles. Visitors often climb here and also make their way into the many caves.

The jawbone trail. See the jawbone in the distance?

It is definitely not the prettiest national park I’ve been to but I think the hiking, caving, and rock climbing would be excellent. The park is also the place where the California Condor was reintroduced.

As I exited the park, I couldn’t help but notice this last picture. A picture of time passing on.

I wonder about the stories that these buildings could tell.

“It’s going to be a bumpy ride…”

After I dropped David off on the PCT, I drove to Ventura Beach to catch a boat to the Channel Islands National Park. It is one of the least visited national parks due to access.

The boat ride is 1-1/2 hours to either Santa Cruz or Anacopa Islands which are part of the Channel Islands NP.

Upon arrival in Ventura, I booked my fare to Santa Cruz and settled in for the night. Five-thirty AM the next morning arrived along with an email stating that the trip had been cancelled due to stormy seas.

Undeterred, I booked the trip again for the next day even though the agent said, “I’m not gonna lie…it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” Pfffsh! I love the ocean, I love boats, I’m going! Tomorrow!

Finding something to do in Ventura Beach wasn’t difficult. The National Park Center, the beaches, the shops, and restaurants provided plenty of entertainment.

The old time diner had marvelous food.
Lots of old cars
The ocean!

Finally, the morning of my projected “bumpy ride” arrived. After loading up on sunscreen, layering up, packing my pack with food and water and downing a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, I was ready to go! Side note: There is no water or food on the island. There IS a pit toilet. 😩

The ride was indeed bumpy but the day was gloriously sunny and warm.

The boat that got me there… Island Adventure

Upon arrival at the park, I learned that at one time the island was used for ranching. Mainly sheep. It was a family business and over the years with greed and family arguments, the land was eventually given over to the National Park Service and Nature Conservancy. The National Park has one side of the island and the Conservancy has the other side.

There are two major critters that everyone tries to see while here: The Santa Cruz Island Fox and the Island Scrub Jay. I got lucky and saw both. My reflexes weren’t fast enough for my own pictures but here are the critters as seen through the lens of another photographer.

The island is beyond beautiful even though the hiking goes up, up, up. Upon arrival at the top, the views are breathtaking.

There’s even a fair amount of plant life. I love seeing little flowers blooming among all the scrub and thistle. These little flowers made themselves known.

Finally, 3:30 arrived and it was time to head back to Ventura Beach. The wind had picked up considerably and as the man said, “It’ gonna be a bumpy ride!” But, we masked up, social distanced and enjoyed the ride back home.

New Beginnings


The Corona virus is a thief.

Covid-19 stole three big trips from me: Hawaii with my daughter, South Africa with my son, and Alaska with my husband.

The good news is that we are all healthy and the dreaded Covid hasn’t robbed us of our health or life. We are blessed.

My son, David, also thought that he had been robbed. His plan for 2020 was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail … a 2,650 mile trail that begins at the border of Mexico and ends at the border of Canada. But, officials told the would be PCT hikers to stay home. So, he did.

The PCT or Pacific Crest Trail map

Then in May, word quickly spread that the trail was slowly opening back up and hikers were welcome.

David got his gear together, invited me to head to San Diego with him, and off we went. We were a little nervous about the airport, the people, the masks, and social distancing but we believed in our ability to “be smart” as we traveled. The airport was a ghost town and so was the train. The airplanes were half full and impeccably clean! Food was given to us in ziplock bags and everyone wore face masks in the airport and on the plane.

We arrived in San Diego and found that airport to be empty as well. It was a strange feeling. We quickly adapted and began to enjoy the few days we had together before David would spend the next 5 months in the desert and mountains of California, Oregon and Washington.

We went to Coronado Island and had some excellent Mexican food at Miguel’s.

Miguel’s on Coronado Island

The beautiful Coronado Hotel

We were saddened to see that the fabulous Coronado Hotel which opened in 1888 and has been continuosly open for 132 years was closed due to Covid-19.

Heading back across the bridge into San Diego, we had some free time to enjoy some of the restaurants and breweries

One of the last times he will be well groomed for 5 months.

Then, on National Trails Day, with a loaded down pack and 5+ gallons of water, I dropped my son off in the little desert town of Agua Dulce. It was a small community with lots of horses on both sides of the canyon road.

The cactus in front of the sign says it all.

To get to the trailhead, it was up a gully washed rutted road that went straight up. Once there, I knew it was only minutes before he headed off into the desert alone to fulfill his dream of hiking the PCT. There was only one thing left to do…take as many pictures and get as many hugs as I could before I said, “Have a blast and hike on!”

The PCT marker which will guide his hike through three states.
That pack is heavy! I tried to lift it and oh my! It is loaded down with food and water.
But first….a selfie!
Checking on things one last time before hitting the trail.
And off he goes…

See that dot of blue headed into the desert? That was my final visual. It was a happy and sad sight all rolled into one. David living his dream. Me missing him already.

As I drove away, this was the first sign I saw as I stopped at the red light. I hope it’s a sign of good things to come for my first born and favorite son.

David Way

If you would like to follow his journey for the next five months, you can find his blog at www.rutteric.com.

If you feel like sending up some good wishes, prayers, or positive thoughts into the universe, they would be greatly appreciated.

Dolly got it right.

I’m not really sure what possessed me to do this; but, I took off on a Tuesday afternoon and headed for the Tennessee mountains. It was hot here in Georgia and I was looking for some cool mountain breezes. Or as my friend says, “The mountains were calling”.

As I drove, I reminisced about the many trips I had taken with family members to these mountains and what fun we all had. One of those memories inlcuded a Christmas trip to Dollywood. So, as quickly as I had made the decision to come to the mountains, I made a quick decision to visit Dollywood. Wait! A theme park during the middle of a pandemic? That seems like a really bad idea!

The theme park was having a flower and food show and I love flowers. I really tried to talk myself out of visiting but after reading the precautions/safety measures the park had in place, I decided to go. After all, if I felt unsafe, I could leave.

Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Dolly got it right. Masks are required and that rule is enforced. Hand sanitizer is distrubted like candy on Halloween. And, no, you are not given a “choice”. Follow the rules or go home. Of course it was all presented in the most southern hospitality way. But, they were serious. I’ll share an example. When arriving at Dollywood, a tram is available from the parking lot to the park. Before embarking, the guest’s temperature is taken, hand sanitizer is dispersed, and each family group must stand 6 feet apart from the next family group. Upon entering the tram, the conductor states again that all guests must have a mask covering the mouth and nose or the tram cannot move. We had a guest on row 3 who somehow didn’t think the rules applied. The conductor said, “Would the guest on row 3 please cover the nose as well as the mouth with the mask?” When the guest complied…we were off to the park. This was the theme of the day. Park employees took the safety rules seriously.

Now for the fun stuff! Dollywood was just as delightful as I remembered. The shows were excellent and the Bluegrass Band was a favorite.

Seeing the replica of Dolly’s Tennesse Mountain Home was especially moving. It reminds the guests just how little is needed to have a happy home. A loving family is the key.

The flower show was just what I was looking for. Lots of flowers in different shapes and colors that made Dollywood even more magical.

Dolly’s signature butterfly
Coat of Many Colors

Somehow, on my last visit, I missed one of the most popular things at Dollywood. Cinnamon Bread! I didn’t miss it this time and I certainly won’t miss out in any future visits. It is divine and made fresh all day long in the Grist Mill.

As a history buff, the train ride around the mountain held historical surprises. The locomotives were actually constructed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. During WWII, these steam engines played an important role in America’s war effort. I won’t spoil the story for you because the engineers will take you back in history as you travel through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains through vignettes of mountain living in days gone by.

It was a great day in Dollywood and I left feeling really happy. I was glad I went and would love to go back for the Smoky Mountain Christmas. And, leave it to Dolly to make even the exit to the park feel like an event unto itself.

Leaving the park under colorful umbrellas

“We’ve already bought the cheese and crackers!”

I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals in my adult life. Thankfully, I was not the one in the hospital bed but rather the one sleeping in the lie flat recliner beside the patient. I prefer to call it my “Delta One Bed”. The made up name just makes the bed seem a little more comfortable than it really is.

I first had the experience of staying nights in the hospital with my mother since I was the daughter that could sleep anywhere, anytime.  After my mother passed, it was time to stay with my father and then later with my husband. It’s important, in my opinion, for someone to be there to pay attention to details and provide help or comfort when needed.
But, sometimes, it is the caregiver who needs comforting. And, sometimes, the caregiver doesn’t even realize that she needs comforting. (more…)

Marriage…or Not

Traveling to Cuba this past week had me thinking about all sorts of things from politics to religion to lifestyles. Traveling always makes me think. This time, a chance encounter in the beautiful blue waters of the ocean left me pondering an age-old question.

I was floating around in the ocean on my hot pink inflatable float (more…)