We arrived at our Singing Hills RV Park campsite early in the day, so we had a free afternoon to explore Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park prior to our scheduled cave tour the next morning.
After a securing a park guide with map, and armed with a couple short hike recommendations, we each gobbled down a mammoth hot dog and left the busy visitor’s center. The promise of wild flowers led us to a short hike to see where the underground River Styx exits, spilling into a muddy pond that flows into Green River.
Back at our campsite, Mother Nature had plans for our evening. You might remember awhile back I mentioned my fear of tornadoes. As we were making dinner, my phone began whining like a miniature air raid siren with a voice shouting ”Tornado warning! Take cover now!” Fortunately, I had my warning radius set far wider than necessary and the danger zone was a safe distance away…but not so far away that we avoided the storm. A bank of black clouds quickly covered us, bringing winds that shook our trailer, thunder, lightning and torrential rains. A pretty crazy night!
It’s been a long and unrelentingly straight road along Interstate 40, but we’ve managed to find some scenic, out-of-the-way campgrounds to spend a couple nights as we head east.
It was time for a city break and Nashville, Tennessee allowed us to explore the culture of Music City and enjoy a quick visit with family.
Reg reserved space for a backstage tour where we walked in the footsteps of many (most) of country music’s greats. The tour ended with a chance for us to stand in the Circle of Wood, the Grand Ole Opry’s iconic center stage spot. The 6-foot circle of wood bears the scuffs and scratches of all the boots and heels that have honored the venue.
Next was downtown Nashville. We weren’t really expecting such crazy crowds and party atmosphere. It was hard to know where to look first as we cruised the several blocks of restaurants, bars and tourist shops…and an incredible array of neon signs.
Live music blasted from open doors and windows of every bar and restaurant. A lunch spot that provided music, but didn’t require earplugs, was our goal. Reg and I don’t know much about country music, but we are semi-committed to watching American Idol. The neon sign down the street caught my eye. Luke Bryan was a name we recognized. We sat upstairs at Luke’s 32 Bridge restaurant while the Beasley Brothers strummed acoustic guitars in the bar below. Lunch was served on small metal roasting pans, a nice down-home touch. Linen napkins added the perfect amount of class.
Normally, that would be a full day for us, but the evening found us out to dinner with Reg’s brother Bob and his wife Gloria. Catching up with family is always time well spent.
What a surprise today’s outing was. Our effort to outrun the high winds across New Mexico allowed us an extra day in the Texas Panhandle. The state park at Palo Duro Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, awaited. At roughly 120 miles long and with an average width of 6 miles, it is the second-largest canyon in the United States. Reg had researched and read good reviews for The Lighthouse Trail, so we packed a lunch and off we went. We were a little skeptical of finding gorgeous scenery as we drove south from outside Amarillo, where the views go on for miles.
The day was expected to reach into the mid-80s although we expected it to get a little warmer along the trail. There were plenty of warnings to carry lots of water and reminders to reapply sunscreen. There was even a sunscreen dispenser at the trailhead for unprepared hikers. It was all just a little intimidating. Probably not a good choice for a summer hike.
Our information assured us there would be quite a few benches placed along the trail…and there were, but most were in the full sun. A nice spot to rest weary feet, but not much help hiding from the heat of the day. I paused for a quick photo, then we pushed on.
As we reached the base of The Lighthouse, we saw folks scrambling up the hillside ( left photo), obviously off the main trail. Choosing to remain on the trail, and thinking we’d have an easier climb because of it, we were faced with this mini-canyon of rocks (right photo) to hoist ourselves up and over.
Reg stands below the 300-foot-high Lighthouse formation, marking the end of the 3-mile trail. We climbed a little higher, but were stopped by the ridge of rock shoulder-high that would have required some pushing and shoving to get ourselves any higher.
We found Palo Duro Canyon State Park to be a hidden gem. Miles of hiking trails cross the park, numerous picnic areas and camping sites are available throughout. We were glad to see the park in spring. I would think summer would be dangerously hot.
Oh, and those high winds we hoped to escape…they arrived out of nowhere tonight, blowing through our campground with gusts of 40-50 mph. Batten down the hatches, its going to be a wild night.
It was never our intention to follow Route 66, but as we’ve traveled east we’ve woven our way on and off the historic route, enjoying little bits and pieces of Americana.
As we left New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment, we crossed into Texas…the land of tornadoes.
Reg poo-poos my fear of entering tornado country. However, I feel justified since we awoke to a “take cover now” warning five years ago while in the Texas Hill Country. The rain came pouring down while the nonstop thunder and lightening surrounded us…and we had nowhere to go. There was a bit of damage in the RV park we were camped in, but thankfully we escaped without any physical damage. For me, maybe just a little emotional scarring.
Needless to say, I’m happy to see that tonight we have a place to go should the weather turn foul. That little white sign on the end of the building above will act as our safe room. I’ve memorized the code and the shoes are by the door.
Our national parks are, without a doubt, among our country’s greatest treasures. A stop at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park confirmed this as we toured the totally unexpected landscapes straddling Interstate 40. Beginning at the Painted Desert Visitors Center, we followed our map into the smaller northern part of the park where multicolored landscapes stretched for miles.
At one time Historic Route 66 passed through a portion of the park. Today a few reminders remain. The Painted Desert Inn, once a host to weary travelers, is now a museum with exhibits featuring memories of bygone days. What’s left of a rusty old 1932 Studebaker sits alongside old telephone poles that once lined the famous route.
We discovered our favorite walk in the larger southern part of the park. The Blue Mesa Badlands mile-long walk is not to be missed. A paved path leads down through the unusual blue and purple hills where chunks of petrified wood are strewn about.
Farther down the road there is ample opportunity to view a phenomenal amount petrified wood…all that remains of what was once an ancient tropical forest. Trees buried millions of years ago have reappeared as beautiful polished stone. What Mother Nature can do is simply unbelievable. Don’t miss this park!
Arizona’s Homolovi State Park may not draw crowds, but we felt it was worth a stop as we ventured off Interstate 40 to check it out. Not far east of Flagstaff, the remains of a once thriving 14th century community are scattered about the land along a section of the Little Colorado River.
It is illegal to remove any artifacts from the park. The Hopi people of today consider Homolovi their homeland and believe stones and broken pottery pieces are part of the land. As you can see, many pieces of pottery remain. Eagle-eyed visitors place found items on rocks along pathways for all to enjoy.
Centuries later, in 1876, a group of Mormon pioneers arrived in the area hoping to establish a new settlement. Not much remains of their brief time along the Little Colorado River. A short path took us out to Sunset Cemetery where a few headstones stand as a reminder of the harsh life the desert offers.
Flagstaff, Arizona welcomed us yesterday with some bitterly cold snow and ferocious nighttime winds. We huddled in bed under two blankets and a thick quilt as the trailer rattled and shook. What would the morning bring? We awoke to sunshine and temperatures expected to soar into the 50s. Perfect hiking weather.
Before heading east, Reg was hoping to sample a section of the Arizona National Scenic Trail, a trail that stretches 800 miles through Arizona from Mexico north to the Utah state border. We found the Fisher Point trailhead just south of town. The relatively short 8-mile out and back piece of the Arizona Trail promised an endpoint view high above nearby Walnut Canyon.
Our guidebook warned us of an 846-foot overall elevation gain, but as we followed the trail it seemed to take us more downhill rather than the uphill we were expecting. We marched on until we came to a fork in the trail. As we turned to the left, Fisher Point rose from the valley floor. It looked like we were going to make the majority of that elevation gain all at once.
We climbed up through evergreens, stepping over rocks and around downed trees until finally reaching the top. It is a gorgeous view, however Walnut Canyon lies far below, mostly hidden by the trees and steep walls. We were able to catch a glimpse by creeping up to the edge where the rocky ledge offered a natural bench for our picnic lunch. It was a good day!
We couldn’t wrap up our stay near Sedona without a trip to the Granite Dells. Located about 4 miles north of downtown Prescott, Arizona, day hikers will find miles of trails winding up and down through forests of large boulders. The feeling is a little unworldly.
We chose to explore the curiously named Constellation Loop Trail, a 2.4 mile hike up, down through a variety of landscape and rock formations. Although there is a bit of climbing, this is not too challenging of a walk. We saw people of all ages wandering…picking and choosing their route from the many intersecting trails. Reg and I couldn’t help but think how much our three boys would have loved racing each other along the dusty paths – back when they were young enough to make a competition out of anything and everything!
At the end of our loop we learned the history behind the Constellation Loop trail name. The large plaque serves as a nice memorial to the five servicemen who will be remembered by all who walk this trail.
Friends Kathy and Doug joined us for three days, helping us kickoff our two-week stay near Sedona, Arizona. A 5 1/2- mile hike up the Brins Mesa Trail and down Soldiers Pass Trail got us a closeup view of some of the gorgeous red cliffs and rocks that Sedona is famous for.
On our own and looking to avoid the crowds, Reg and I drove a few miles south in search of the Copper Canyon trailhead outside of Camp Verde. We were pleasantly surprised with the 3.9-mile hike. Believe it or not, sometimes it’s nice to escape all that beautiful red rock.
So, on this rainy afternoon, week 2 is winding down. We expect to explore more of the dusty Sedona trails as week 3 unfolds. Check back and I’ll let you know what we discover.
Winter decided to make a comeback (with overnight lows in the mid twenties…well below freezing) just days before our planned takeoff, causing us worry about the recently de-winterized water system in our trailer. In an effort to outsmart Mother Nature, we loaded up and headed south before the potentially freezing temps put an end to our trip before we could start.
We’ve made several unsuccessful attempts at planning a Maine trip, however this year is looking extremely promising. Reservations have been made, friends have been contacted and we are on the road. We are excited to reach the place that has adopted the moose as its state animal, but our June arrival date leaves plenty of time to pick and choose our route. After a scheduled two-week stop in Sedona, Arizona, the open road awaits. Where will it lead us?