Escaping to Deep Creek, Bryson City, NC

Everything is terrible right now.

Future history books will not be kind.

I need to escape into the woods.

I need to feel the rush of cold mountain streams.

This is what I plan to be doing this Memorial Day weekend.

There’s always time for joy.

 

Advertisements

Pictures from Tampa and Clearwater (4/20/19 – 4/28/19)

I took fewer photos than I have on earlier trips to see my son in Florida, but that was fine because I actually got more time to spend with him, and I just wanted to enjoy our time together.

Here are the pictures I did take during my week there.  We both had a fantastic time.

Tampa River Walk, Tampa.   I took these on April 20, the first night I was there, after the 12 hour long car ride.   These were taken just before, during, and just after sunset. I was sore from the car ride but still managed to walk quite a bit.  It was definitely worth it!

tampariverwalk1

tampariverwalk2

tampariverwalk3

tampariverwalk4

I’m the one in the gray sneakers. 

tampariverwalk5

tampariverwalk6,jpg

tampariverwalk7

Clearwater Beach

iamatthebeach

Sign greeting me in my hotel room.  The beachy decor was adorable.

clearwater2019a

The surf was rough on this day (4/24) due to storms in the area, so there were few people swimming,  and there was a rip current warning.  The waves were very high for the Gulf.

I will never get enough of those Clearwater sunsets:

clearwater2019b

clearwater2019c

clearwatersunset2019a

clearwatersunset2019b

clearwatersunset2019c

Anclote Key sandbar (via boat ride from Tarpon Springs):

anclotekey2019

The photo doesn’t do this justice.  Anclote Key is a state park and camping area, accessible only by boat, about 4 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is very remote.  The sand is as white as snow, and is almost blinding in the sun.  The many tidal pools are filled with shells and hermit crabs.

anclotekey2019a

anclotekeybirds1

My son took these two photos of the seabirds at Anclote.  This post wouldn’t be complete without them.

anclotekeybirds2

Dessert at Hellenas Greek Bakery, Tarpon Springs.

nomnoms

 

My backyard just got a lot bigger and more interesting.

backyard1

Pioneer plants and grasses are beginning to overtake the bare ground the removal of the blackberry brambles left in its wake.

I’ve been living in this 1908 farmhouse since 2012 (yes, it’s really 111 years old!).  Until earlier this year, the backyard sloped down rather steeply and seemed to end with a very thick, overgrown patch of blackberry bushes, that alas, never produced any edible blackberries (grrrr!) and had become an unmanageable tangle of brambles that had become invasive and made the grass at the base of the slope very difficult to mow.

backyard2

Another view.

It all started with a lost septic tank.

When our septic system needed to be pumped last fall no one knew where the septic tank was at first.  It hadn’t been pumped in at least ten years!   In fact, when I moved in I mistakenly thought we were on the city sewer system, but when I began getting strange odors coming from the sinks, bathtub and toilet, and finally some kind of brown sludge coming up through the drains, I made an emergency call to my landlord and he arranged for the system to be pumped.  But first they’d need to look for it, because even he couldn’t remember where it was located.

backyard3

Lots of snakelike roots and hanging vines.

Well, they finally found it.  It was located under the blackberry brambles, so all of them had to be removed, leaving a large, mudpit shot through with thick roots that gave the entire back of my yard the appearance of a giant snake pit.  But I was shocked at how much more space there was too.   The land behind the brambles went back pretty far, down into a ditch far below that may or may not contain a small stream.    It turns out, all that land belongs to this property.

backyard4

There’s a fallen tree that goes way off into the distance, though it’s hard to see the other end.

I did nothing to clean up the area, other than toss some grass seed on the dried mud.  Now it’s May and nature is taking over again.  New plants and tufts of tall grass are growing lushly and there are even pioneer trees and shrubs beginning to take over the once bare soil and cover the sinuous roots.

Thinking like my cat.

My imagination went a little crazy.  I thought about my tuxedo cat Sheldon quietly slithering into the natural nooks and crannies in the trees and shrubs, and all the secret cat trails he has probably discovered, where he finds heaven knows what.   I imagined being a cat, and in my mind’s eye I saw trails leading off into the dark woods beyond, even though there don’t appear to be any there right now.  Maybe we can bushwack some of the shrubs and vines and make a trail, even though in all likelihood any trail we create would lead to nowhere more interesting than the newish housing development there behind the trees, much of which can be seen in winter when the trees are bare.

backyard5

I always have loved the golden light of late afternoon and early evening.

 

An abandoned school in Ruskin, Florida: a detour.

I was reminded of Easter Day this year.  It was my first full day in Florida after arriving there the night before.  We had gone to visit my son’s partner Josh’s family in a place called Ruskin, which is just south of Tampa.

There’s not much going on in Ruskin, Florida, but across the road from Josh’s mom’s comfortable doublewide where we spent the entire day eating a motley assortment of potluck dishes as though it were Thanksgiving (and getting just as sleepy later), are several trails that go off into the woods for quite a long distance, but all wind up in the same place:  an old abandoned school that burned down sometime in the 1970s.

easter2019

My son and a friend after gorging on potluck Easter dishes all day.

No one knows if the fire was an accident or arson, or if anyone died in the fire, but seeing the darkened red brick and yellowed concrete walls of the old school (there are only three walls left standing and two of them are crumbling) suddenly emerge out from the junglelike brush and Floridian forest plants, was a rather spooky (but cool) experience.

I didn’t take photos, because my son was taking better photos on his more expensive and much better camera.   It was nice to have my hands free so I could swat the hundreds of mosquitoes that swarmed around me and were happily dining on both my arms and my hands.   I finally resorted to waving my arms around wildly to ward off the clouds of mosquitoes, but the next day both my arms were covered in itchy red welts.  I’m glad I had the presence of mind to wear long pants and sneakers, rather than shorts and flip flops, like two of the people who accompanied us did.

Although I didn’t take pictures of the school ruins, a friend of my son’s did — on Christmas Day of all times.    My son was along for that hike too.   There’s also a video of his friend jumping (and almost falling into) a creek, but I’ll spare you that.   I guess that’s what people do in Florida on Christmas – they go hiking and hunt for old ruins in the woods.   We made the same hike on Easter.    That seems significant.   So here are four photographs of what they saw on their Christmas hike, and that’s pretty much the same thing we saw on our Easter hike.

school1  school3 school4  school2

Credit for the above photos:  Tahoe Wolf  Ⓒ 2018

Back at home.

So, getting back to my newly opened up backyard.    It’s kind of ugly still, and there probably aren’t any interesting old ruins from decades ago, but it has promise.  There’s more there to explore, and over time, it will become more eyecatching as the patchy almost bare ground becomes covered with new plants and flowers.  I might toss some wildflower seed down there to help it along.

backyard6

backyard7

Looking back up the hill at the burned out hulk of the apartment building that partially burned down in late January and killed a woman who was trapped inside (I posted about this and included a video of the fire I took on my phone that got used on the local news).

I’m sorry that I have no “before” pictures of the blackberry brambles that were blocking our access to anything beyond (and hiding our septic system), but frankly, they weren’t that attractive anyway.

backyard8

This is the ugliest angle of my house.  This was taken looking back up the hill at its backside, which is devoid of shutters, has old ladders and other junk propped up against it, and the grass is way overdue for a mow.   Still, I liked the juxtaposition of the stark white against the deep green and blue sky.

At the dog park.

The weather was pretty today (the first true springlike day we’ve had) and  my daughter wanted to take my ex’s dog, Dexter, to the dog park.

As you can see, we’ve had lots and lots of rain.    The dog park was basically a mud pit, but it seemed like every dog in town was there, and they were having the time of their lives, especially this hilarious guy digging in a mud puddle and barking at it.

Exploring Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, my son’s unexpected visit, and more.

 

Looking up at the front of the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC

I had a pretty exciting (and hectic) weekend.   My son came up from Tampa with a friend of his (Rudy) in tow.   I really wasn’t prepared for the visit, since he announced it just three days before their arrival.    He had to take Rudy to the airport in Atlanta and decided to come up to NC to visit his mom and newly married sister (and new brother in law), since we are not that far away from Atlanta.

Friday night after I got home from work they were already at the house.  We ate at the new Galactic Pizza near my home (their Italian food and especially their pizza is amazing).  The space theme decor is super cool as well.

Inside of Galactic Pizza, Asheville

Closeup of the laminated outer space theme bar counter

The next day was pretty quiet, since my daughter and her husband both had to work, so my son and his friend went out to visit some of my son’s old friends from school, and I had a chance to clean up the house and do a little shopping.   Saturday night was Game Night.  They had brought two friends back with them to the house.  All seven of us crammed into the small living room, ate a huge bucket of Bojangles’ chicken, and played some online games (you have to download an app to play) and they were pretty fun, but after awhile I developed an intense headache and felt tired so I went to bed early while they continued to play more games deep into the night.    I was really feeling my age that night!

Sunday we had the best time.  We got up pretty early, and after a quick breakfast and some coffee, decided to head to the mall.  My son bought his partner some gifts, and I splurged and bought myself this adorable Betsey Johnson pink flamingo suitcase that was on sale (it was the last one left so I *had* to have it!).   I needed some new luggage anyway, and since I’m taking my yearly trip to Florida in two months (I can’t wait), the pink flamingo motif was perfect.  I’ll probably get the smaller matching case later, which would be perfect for smaller items and cosmetics, but I’ll probably order that online and get a cheaper price than I could at a store (and it was out of stock).

 

I also stopped in Hallmark while my daughter and her husband were busy and bought them this as a late wedding present (they got married several weeks back, but I never got around to writing a post about it). I think it looks like them a lot.  Both of them were touched.

 

After the mall run, my daughter left for work and her husband left with her, and so my son, his friend and I decided to go exploring the world famous Grove Park Inn (purchased by Omni Hotels and now officially referred to as he Omni Grove Park Inn) The hotel was built on he side of Sunset Mountain (part of the Blue Ridge) and completed in 1912.  It was built in the popular and beautiful Arts and Crafts architectural style that was fashionable at the time (and has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years).  Its red shingle roof has an organic look to it, and the facade is constructed of stone found right here in the mountains.   It has been added to over the years, with an additional wing added, but it all fits together seamlessly and the hotel has become enormous!  You can easily get lost in it.

Looking down from the hotel (it is built into the side of a mountain)

Looking up from the bottom. Yes, there are actual waterfalls, and these are natural features, not manmade.

 

Many notables of both the past and present have visited the hotel, and adorning the hallways are photos of the various famous visitors.   There are several excellent (but expensive) restaurants, and beautiful architectural detailing everywhere.

One of the most impressive things about the Inn is the huge stone lobby with its vintage rocking chairs and sofas, and especially its two gigantic fireplaces on either end.  There are outside porches extending from the lobby, and the views are breathtaking,  overlooking the nearby mountain ranges.   You feel like you are in the sky.

There is a vintage 1913 (?) Ford Model T (?) in the lobby.  Someone correct me on this if they know the exact model and year.  I forgot to take down that information.

You can get an idea of the view from these pictures.   I wish the day was less cloudy/foggy (and cold!), but it was still lovely.

And here is the three of us:

The hotel also may be haunted!  There is the famous legend of the Pink Lady, who was staying at the Inn in 1920, and died from a fall to the Palm Court from the balcony in the central part of the Inn (the floors above the main lobby). Her room number was 545, and to this day, people are either drawn to that particular room because of its macabre history, or they avoid it!   None of us encountered the Pink Lady or any other ghost that day (yes, we did walk past Room 545!)

Scale model of Grove Park Inn displayed in one of the hallways

Another famous thing about the Grove Park Inn is the annual Gingerbread House Competition, which takes place every Christmas season.  It’s a fairly new event, which started as a tiny competition for local people in the late 1990s, but has now become a huge sensation that people from all over the world travel to see.   Everything in the Gingerbread Houses must be edible, although it doesn’t need to all be of Gingerbread.

Here are two views of last year’s winner.  This construction includes (edible) gears that actually move!

 

The best part came last.  We descended all the stone stairs down the mountainside (seen above in some of the photos) and at the very bottom is the Grove Park Inn’s Spa, which is actually built into the rock itself.  It’s basically contained within an underground cave system, and as you walk along the stone tunnels leading to the Spa, there are  waterfalls here and there, trickling water collected in small pools along the rough stone walls, and even a few actual geodes embedded into the rock.   (It was too dark to get a good photo of those).   As you approach the Spa itself, you can smell the scents from inside.   We didn’t go inside, as we didn’t have a pass and hadn’t paid for a day at the Spa (how I would have loved that!), but what we saw was still impressive.

I do have one good picture of one of the tunnels leading to the Spa. Beneath that is a photo from Omni Hotels’ website, showing the Grove Park Inn Spa’s underground pool (which is manmade but might as well be a natural feature).

The underground pool at the Spa. (credit:  Omnihotels.com)

One day I’m spending a day here.  It’s on my bucket list.

This morning my son left to return to Florida.  I’m off work today so I’m spending the rest of the day working on my blog, something I’ve been sadly neglecting.  This is my first post.

 

Hypercube.

This is the coolest thing I ever saw.   They’re not for sale yet, but they will be soon.   I want one, but I’m sure they’re beyond my budget.  As high tech as they look, they’re really not.   It’s just a cube with all six panels contructed of a one sided mirror which is a one way window on the other side, and then lined with LED light strips.

Pictures from Myrtle Beach.

myrtlebeach1

I spent three days at Myrtle Beach and unlike last year, the weather was perfect every day!  I would have loved to spend an extra day since the day dawned so gorgeous on the morning we left, but I don’t think my sunburned skin could have taken any more!

myrtlebeach2

myrtlebeach3

We didn’t do much, mostly just lazed on the beach, took long walks, and ambled along the boardwalk, but relaxation is what a vacay is all about, not staying busy every second.

I just love the ocean.  It’s so soothing to my body and soul.

myrtlebeach4

Myrtle Beach sunset.

myrtlebeach5

Since Myrtle Beach is on the Atlantic Ocean, if you get up early enough, you can catch incredible sunrises.  The second morning we were able to do just that.  These photos were each taken about five minutes apart:

myrtlebeachsunrise1

myrtlebeachsunrise3

myrtlebeachsunrise4

myrtlebeachsunrise

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day trip to Sunburst, NC

butterflies1

Blue swallowtail butterflies.

Probably the best kept secret in my neck of the woods is a swimming hole in Sunburst, North Carolina.  It’s about 30 miles to the west of my home, deep in Haywood County, near the Tennessee border.  It’s actually part of a river system near Lake Logan, in the Smoky Mountains.   It’s one of those places that mostly just the local people know about, since it’s not advertised anywhere, there are no signs leading to it, and there is no admission to get in.   Which is wonderful because it never gets too crowded, and you almost feel like it’s your own little secret happy place.

swimminghole1

You just park by the side of the road and walk down to the water (you have to be careful — it’s very rocky and lots of roots too).   But once you’re down there, you’re in for a treat.   The water is cold, and probably the clearest freshwater I’ve ever seen — or tasted.   There is no cloudiness to it at all.   You can drink it and it tastes fantastic.    In fact, I filled my water bottle with it to take back home with me.  Next time, I’m taking a gallon jug!

I went up to my waist in the water (I didn’t jump off the rocks like the kids in this video were doing — and the water does look quite deep in the middle) and when you emerge you do feel rather tingly all over — I’m not sure if that’s due to the coldness or the minerals in the water.  It has a very “soft” feel to it, and I did feel very relaxed for several hours after this trip, so I wonder what good, healthful minerals it might have been infused with.

butterflies2

There were blue swallowtail butterflies everywhere!  Here is the video I made.  Please excuse how amateurish it is — I’m new at making videos and haven’t figured out how to get it to fill the screen yet.    I just posted this one and the Clearwater Beach one on my Youtube account, which I’ve always had but never had anything of my own on it before.

My Clearwater and Tampa, Florida trip.

anclotekey1

Sandbar at Anclote Key Preserve.

More than two months ago, my daughter and I spent 8 days in Tampa and Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I never got around to writing about my trip, even though I kept promising to.  Well, I finally got around to it.  Better late than never, right?

horseshoecrabs

Horseshoe crabs — one of them crawled right over my feet!

I got to see my son while we were in Tampa, even though he had to work most of the 4 days were here, but we did all go out to dinner a couple of times, spent some time lounging at the hotel pool and hot tub.  On our last day together, we all went to ZooTampa.  It was a bit pricey, but worth it.   We got a late start, but still managed to see almost the entire zoo, except “Australia.”  The sections we saw were “Florida,” “Africa,” “Asia,” and “Primates.”   The zoo is very large so if you go, be prepared to spend lots of time walking!  Stay hydrated.   As we passed through the indoor reptile area (a welcomely cool respite from the heat), there were colorful decorations all over the ceiling that resembled deep sea creatures and looked as if they were made of glass — but they were actually sculptures made from recycled soda bottles and other plastic trash!

trashsculpture1

trashsculpture2

trashsculpture3

We loved seeing all the different animals (there were even river otters — my favorite — in the “Florida” section).  My daughter seemed quite taken with the pink flamingos, who were very entertaining and funny.   There were so many of them!  We spent a long time just watching their antics.

flamingos

One of the days my son was working, my daughter and I decided to drive to Tarpon Springs, a small Greek fishing village which is known as the Sponge Capital of the US.  It was my third visit there.  It’s one of my favorite places in the Tampa Bay area. On a whim, we decided to take the Sponge-O-Rama cruise out into the Gulf.  It’s a two hour cruise and pretty cheap at only $20 per person.   We had to wait a while for the boat (a sort of ferry) to fill up, but when we took off, the water was pretty choppy from recent storms, and I had to hold on.  Drinks were served but it was hard to hold onto them without them splashing everywhere.  After we got out into the Gulf, the dark water from the marina and inlet suddenly turned bright aquamarine.   For a minute I thought someone had slipped some LSD into my beer!  But this is the actual color of the water.

anclotekey5

The boat’s captain, a youngish Greek man who had been raised in Tarpon Springs and worked with the boats all his life (his name was Atticus!) explained the reason why the color of the water changed so abruptly isn’t so much due to the depth, but because once you leave the river and enter the Gulf proper, the water changes from brackish (almost freshwater) to salt water.  The mangroves dotting the area suck up the nutrients from the water, making it clear.   He pointed out other things we were seeing along the way.

Finally, about three miles out into the Gulf, he pulled the boat over next to a large sandbar.   This was part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, a group of very small mangrove islands so remote there is no way to get there except by boat.  The sandbar is a semi-permanent fixture, with a few low growing plants and grasses and a lot of seaweed washed up on the sand.   The sand was absolutely blinding white, like snow, and surrounded on all sides by the clearest aquamarine water I’ve ever seen.  In the shallow areas the water was so crystal clear you could barely see it.  Our group (there were about 20 of us) spent about 30 minutes exploring, collecting shells, or swimming.  We were each given a plastic grocery bag to collect shells in.   I didn’t spend much time shelling.  After a few minutes, I ran out into the pristine warm salt water and just let it engulf me.   The whole experience was exhilarating, even though 30 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time!

anclotekey3

anclotekey4

anclotekey7

anclotekey8

The above photo is my absolute favorite.   The juxaposition of the white sands, aquamarine water and fluffy white clouds stirs my soul.  I have made this photo the background on my laptop!

seashells

Our combined seashell booty.

marina

The marina at Tarpon Springs (notice how much darker the water here is)

We drove to Clearwater for the remaining 4 days.  The 10 mile drive over Tampa Bay into Clearwater is very pretty.   We stayed in a cute hotel right on the beach, but the weather during our stay could have been better.   We only had two days of good weather, but being right on the boardwalk, there was still more than enough to keep us busy.   Our first night, we ate at Clearwater’s most famous eatery, Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe.  The beach was wonderful, and not too crowded.  One day we decided to drive out to Treasure Island in St. Petersburg, even though it was raining.  Hey, why not?   It rained during the drive, and the entire time we were there, but the beach was still pleasant and the water warm.  We didn’t stay long, but it was nice having the beach almost completely to ourselves.

frenchys

Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, Clearwater.

rainybeach

Treasure Island in the pouring rain.

The sunsets over the Gulf were incredible.    I just can’t get enough of Gulf sunsets, and here are the pictures proving that.

clearwatersunset4

clearwatersunset5

clearwatersunset6

clearwatersunset7

clearwatersunset1

clearwatersunset2

Sunlight from sunset reflecting off the clouds to the east.

On our second day, we had beautiful weather (even though the morning forecast had predicted rain), so we decided to book the Pirate ship for its Champagne Cruise, which takes off in the late afternoon.  There are two champagne cruises; ours was the first.  The next one takes off at sunset.   I would have liked to go on that one too, but we’d already had way too much champagne.  Yes, I confess both my daughter and I overindulged (you pay your $40 for the cruise, and the drinks are unlimited), but we had so much fun, and the views from the ship were amazing (a few are pictured below). The pirate theme was fun, and the appropriately costumed staff were friendly.  The nice young man pictured below (I can’t remember his name) even hung out with us on the upper deck for a few minutes.

piratecruise

pirateshipview

pirateshipview2

clearwatersunset3

Me with view of the beach in the background

One thing I noticed this time was how good I’m getting at finding my way around the Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater metro area.   It’s my third trip to this area, but this time I was finally getting comfortable just driving around and finding my way from one place to another.   I’m generally not good with directions and navigation, but  because everything’s pretty much laid out on a grid here, it’s a lot easier to get around the area than where I live, where there are mountains and no grid to speak of.

It seems so much longer than two months ago I was in Florida, but in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday.   To end this post, here’s a little video I made just after sunset of the patterns of the surf (it’s actually the first video I ever made from my phone).

Checking in!

anclotekey1

This is a VERY short post so no one worries about me, since it’s been almost a week since I last posted.

We are here in Clearwater Beach, FL having a WONDERFUL time.  I’m very frustrated at the moment though, because I just made my first little video of the moving Gulf water after sunset and the interesting patterns it was making, but even though it’s possible to post it here, it isn’t possible to remove my real name from the video (which I have never used on this blog).   So I won’t be able to post it after all.  Grrrr!    Trust me, it was very cool.   If I can find a way to remove my identifying info, I’ll definitely put it here.

I have about a gazillion photos, so I’ll be writing a longer post using some of those pictures in the next few days, or I just might wait until I get home on Sunday.   It’s so nice to see my son and swim in the warm Gulf waters again.

The picture you see above is from Anclote Key, a remote sandbar several miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and accessible only by boat.  More about that later!

I hope all of you are well. See you again soon!