Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Blue Kind of Day - Blueberry picking at Blue Job Mountain

Wild Blueberries on Blue Job
Driving home from our morning coffee run Matt said, "I know what we should do today!"  We grabbed some plastic containers, a bottle of water, and headed to Blue Job Mountain.  Horray for spontaneous adventures!

Blue Job Mountain is really more like a large hill (1300 ft) in Farmington, NH - eight miles northwest of Rochester, NH.  It is part of the Blue Job State Forest, and although it's known mostly just to the locals, it has one of the best views of any hikes in Southern New Hampshire.

Berry Picking on the Summit
Hiking and blueberry picking at Blue Job is the perfect family activity (although adults, like me, will love it as well!)  The short, 1 mile loop, takes hikers up through a forest to an open summit.  On clear days, you can see all the way to the White Mountains including Mt. Washington!

We parked in the parking lot (no cost) and took the root-covered Blue Job Mountain Trail up the eastern side to the first open "peak".  Wild blueberries provide a ground cover along the rock slab summit.  Continue on the trail from the first "peak", and you will break through the trees to a magnificent fire tower.  From here, you can head town the steeper, but partially paved, fire road back to the parking lot.

I enjoyed our little stroll up this scenic "mountain" and filled two containers with blueberries to boot!  This trail can be hiked year round and is a great way to escape into nature in Southern New Hampshire.

I'm excited to sprinkle the ripe flavor-filled bites on my cereal this week, mix them with whipped cream for a tasty dessert, and gobble handfuls as a snack.  As you might notice - my photos are not their usual quality.  Since this was an unexpected adventure, I was forced to take photos with my inadequate cell phone instead of my usual Lumix.  A lesson that even the most avid photog can forget her gear. I hope you get out on a spur-of-the-moment berry picking hike sometime soon!

Fire Tower on the Summit of Blue Job Mountain

More info:
Challenge Level:  Easy
Distance: One mile round trip
Location: The trailhead is a well signed, gravel lot on First Crown Point Road.  This is accessed by turning right (north) onto First Crown Point Road.  Drive about 5 miles  and the parking lot is on your right.
Gear: Water, Sun Protection, Layered Clothing, and Containers to gather blueberries!

Our blueberry hall!

Please leave comments and questions below...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pictured Rocks Astounds - Another Michigan Treasure

2013 Girls Trip - Part II
Upper Peninsula, MI

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
We drove to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to spend four days hiking, boating, and exploring this geologic wonder on Lake Superior.  This was an amazing and beautiful spot.  If you have never considered Michigan as an adventure travel destination - Reconsider!  This park offers breathtaking views, diverse hiking trails, and opportunities for world-class water sports.

Mackinac Bridge, MI

We left Arcadia, MI in the Lower Peninsula around 8:30 am and drove north to Pictured Rocks.  We stopped for lunch at the iconic and impressive Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mack-i-nah).  Bridge View Park spans the Lake Michigan/Lake Huron waterway, and we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch under the shade of the Mackinac Lighthouse and park trees.  Step foot in the water, and you will be touching both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan at the same time!

After lunch, we traveled further to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We drove Route 77 to the town of Grand Marais and entered the park around 5 pm at the Grand Sable Visitor Center.  The ranger told us that all the park campgrounds were full for the night.  Fortunately, the area has multiple municipal, state, and private campgrounds as well.  We spend the night at Woodland Campground, just outside the north section of the park.  This campground offered electric, water, wifi, and showers as well as access to the Lake Superior beach and the town's playground/park.  We had a pleasant one night stay.

Lighthouse on Grand Island
In the morning, we left around 8:30 am and got a spot in the park at Hurricane River Campground's Lower Loop.  This campground offered wooded, private, and roomy spots.  It also had access to the sandy beaches and is the site for the hiking trail to Au Sable Lighthouse.  Campers should know that the park campgrounds are "bear bones" and provide only pit toilets and a communal water spigot.  That said, it was a serene and quiet campsite, and we really enjoyed being inside the park for our last two nights.

The rest of our time in the park flew by in a blur! 
Here is a list of some of our activities at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore...
View from Lakeshore Trail

1. Hike The Lakeshore Trail - One of our first activities was to drive to the south end of the park for a hike.  The day was windy and the water wild with waves as we trekked along the shoreline.  The Lakeshore Trail runs 40 miles along the coast and is a picturesque destination for backpackers and day hikers.  Our hike began at Miner's Castle off H11 (an awesome viewpoint for breathtaking rock formations) and traveled north along the Lakeshore trail.

The trail took us through maple/beech forest, along sandy wide beaches, and over tannin stained rivers.  We enjoyed views of the painted sandstone rock, wildlife, and shoreline.  The trail continues north, but after a few hours, we turned around and retraced our footsteps back.

Views along Pictured Rocks Cruise
2. Pictured Rocks Boat Trip - We booked the Pictured Rocks Cruises two hour tour out of Munsing, MI to get a view of the geologic wonders from water.  Since boat trips sell out, it is recommended that you purchase your tickets a day prior to departure.  Cruises are offered multiple times a day, so there are plenty of opportunities.

We originally were hoping for a sunset cruise, but because the forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, we switched to take a 10 am trip.  This was not the best choice for photographing cliffs since most rocks were in shade, but it was a great time to have calm water and an early start to the day.

The boat trip is narrated by the captain and is well worth the $36 ticket cost.  We viewed colored cliffs, sea caves, historic lighthouses, waterfalls, and sandy beaches.  Along the trip, we passed by a number of kayakers enjoying the views by paddling.  If time had allowed, I would have loved to embark on a kayak adventure.  The teal waters were a stark contrast to the red, brown, and white painted cliffs.

Mineral seepage creates beautiful colors in rock
Walking Lake Superior Shoreline

3. Walk the Lake Superior Shoreline - The composition of the lakeshore beach varies as you stroll along the coast.  We walked on ground ranging from tan sands, to colorful round pebbles, to flat sandstone rocks.  Each step was memorable and beautiful.

Chapel Beach near the Pictured Rocks was a great spot.  The beach is sandy with small colorful pebbles scattered throughout the shoreline.  A red, cascading waterfall blends with the teal waters of Superior next to the statuesque Chapel Rock.  Another beautiful beach was at the Woodland Park.  We walked south through sand and rock toward the Grand Sable Dunes where children enjoyed running down the hills of sand.

Au Sable Light at Sunset
4.  Watch the Sunset at Au Sable Light Station - The Au Sable Lighthouse trail was accessible from our Hurricane River Campground.  The "trail" to the lighthouse is actually a wide, dirt tote road.  Leanne and I hiked out there around 8pm to catch the 9:20 sunset.  The light danced on the sandstone beach and lit the side of the lighthouse beautifully.  It's a great spot and a hike that is accessible for everyone.

5.  Hike the Chapel Rock Loop - The largest hike of our trip was to Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach.  We drove down the dirt Chapel Road off H58 to the hiker's parking lot.  Be aware- there is no water at the trailhead so pack it in!  We hiked to Chapel Falls and continued to Chapel Rock and Beach.

Along the way, we enjoyed seeing tall maples, white waterfalls, young deer, and the beautiful Chapel Rock - a classic feature of the park.  A large evergreen majestically stands on this rock tower - only able to survive due to it's roots that reach the 12 foot divide to land.

We returned via the 2.5 mile parallel trail on the other side of Chapel Lake, although many hikers continue to Mosquito Beach before returning to the parking lot - making it a 9.7 mile loop.  For the overnight hiker, there are backcountry campsites in the Chapel Rock area as well as a pit toilet.  There is no running water.

Leanne and I LOVED our trip to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  I'm glad she chose to make this our girls trip destination.  If given a list of destinations in the past, I doubt that Michigan would have been my top choice, but NOW, I look forward to coming back to explore more!

Girls Trip 2013

Please leave comments and questions below...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Northwestern Michigan Adventures - Beaches, Dunes, and City Walks

Arcadia Beach in Western Michigan - Feeling Tropical

Girls Trip Ladies - Courtney, Leanne, and Me
Every year, my friends Leanne, Courtney, and I go on a "girls trip" for a week or two in the summer.  We take turns planning the destination and the itinerary.  Last year, I was responsible for our trip to Newfoundland, and wrote about it on my first blog: "On the Rock".  This year, Leanne has designed an exciting trip to her home state, Michigan.

I admit, touring Michigan wasn't on my bucket list.  I groaned a little when I spent my hard saved money on a flight to Detroit, but since then I have had to retract my groans because so far, this this trip has been just what the doctor ordered!

In the past three days, I've swam in surf, sunned on beach, ran down dunes, hiked along a National Shoreline, and tasted fine dining in Traverse City.  We are only half way into our trip, and I can't wait for it to continue!

Here is a taste of what you need to experience in Northwestern Michigan...

Traverse City 

Beautiful Traverse City Waterfront
This is an awesome tourist-friendly city!  Sitting on the picturesque Lake Michigan, it is host to world-renowned fine dining, excellent shopping, and serene outdoor adventures.  Leanne and I drove straight into town, parked the car, and spent hours walking the friendly streets.  We popped into shops and enjoyed the natural beauty of the city on the water.

Along Front Street you can visit coffee shops, boutiques, and eateries.  Leanne and I bought local delicacies at "Cherry Republic"- a shop that sells delicious sweets and sauces made of local cherries.  We also enjoyed the waterfront's "Clinch Park" - a green space that offers picnic areas, walking, kayak rentals, and swimming.

River running through Traverse City reminds me of Venice!

We scoped out many places for a fine dinner including multiple breweries, restaurants, and even a parking lot of funky and gourmet-style food trucks.  Having done our research, we ambitiously traveled to Trattoria Stella - a top-rated Italian restaurant that offers a farm to table menu, in addition to a wonderful wine list and knowledgeable staff.  Without reservations, the wait was over two hours, but the four of us easily slipped into four empty bar seats and enjoyed a world class meal.

Trattoria Stella - Italian Fine Dining

Antipasta Menu from local farmers

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan

One of the biggest attractions to the Western Shore of Michigan is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shoreline.  The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-see for park visitors.  The loop offers 12 focal points/pull outs including dunes, hikes, forests, and views of Lake Michigan.

It took us about two hours to do this 7.4 mile drive because we made multiple stops including hiking the 1.5 mile Cottonwood Trail through dunes and forest, picnicking at Picnic Hill, and sunning at the Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook.

Other worthwhile points-of-interest included the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, the Dune Climb, and the swimming area at Glen Haven.  Check out the photos below!

Courtney on the Cottonwood Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Dune Running!

Arcadia and Nearby Attractions
Our digs - Leanne's parents' pop up!

We weren't able to get a campsite at Sleeping Bear Dunes, so we stayed at a private campground 20 miles south of the park called the Arcadia Campground Marina in the town of Arcadia, MI.  This campground is essentially a large field that offers sunny spots for RVs and tents including electric and water right on the marina.  It's not a great spot for privacy or shade, but it was convenient to be right next to the Arcadia beach, which is beautiful and an ideal location to sun and swim.

We made friends at the campground and got some fantastic suggestions for local points-of-interest.  Some of my favorite spots included: the Pointe Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort, the Gwen Frostics Print Blocking studio and store in Benzonia, and the Trick Dog Cafe in Elberta.

Gwen Frostic Print Block Gallery and Shop
Pointe Betsie Lighthouse
Sunset on Lake Michigan

After three days of exploring the Western Shore, we are venturing north to the Upper Peninsula.  I'm excited and ready for more nature-filled adventures in Michigan!

Loving Michigan!

Please leave comments and questions below...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Day at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Some of my favorite childhood memories were weekends spent at my grandparent's house at Tolovana Beach, Oregon.  We would walk the long coastline, build sand castles with moats around them, and visit the Cannon Beach bakery for a maple bar and loaf of Haystack Bread.  Now, as an out-of-state visitor, I try to visit the vacation spot of my childhood whenever I am in Oregon.

On this summer day, Matt and I drove to Cannon Beach from Portland for a day of beach walking, tide pooling, and magnificent views.

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Camp 18 - As I shared in a previous blog post (Oregon Coast Day Trip), I always stop at this
restaurant for breakfast.  I enjoyed my flapjacks with marionberry syrup while sitting in the grand log room.  Afterwards, Matt and I explored the outside grounds that is a museum of logging equipment.  Interpretive signs gave information about the machines and equipment.

Interior of Camp 18 Restaurant
Short Stack with Marionberry Syrup

Camp 18 Logging Museum

Tolovana Beach - Instead of parking in Cannon Beach, we took the Tolovana Beach exit and parked at (free) public parking next to Mo's Restaurant.  Matt and I planned to arrive around 10 am since the low tide was around 10:15 am.  It was a clear, beautiful day and we enjoyed our walk north to the iconic Haystack Rock - known to some from its role in the 1980's movie "Goonies".  It was about a mile and a half walk to the rock from Tolovana Beach.

Tolovana Beach
Tillamook Lighthouse at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock - Haystack Rock is a basalt monolith that towers out of the shallow seas at Cannon Beach.  The site is a marine preserve due to its impressive tide pools and sanctuary for rare marine birds.  Matt and I strolled around the rocks at low tide - viewing the large sea stars, barnacles, mussels, and sea anemones.  Wildlife volunteers walk the area at low tide and are willing to share information and give advice.  On this day, we also saw many sea birds, including tufted puffins, nesting on the rocks.

Tide Pools
Sea Anemones

Town of Cannon Beach - Matt and I walked another mile further and ventured into town.  We visited the public restrooms and went for coffee, donuts, and a loaf of the famous Haystack Bread at the Cannon Beach Bakery.  Afterwards, we strolled around town window shopping and enjoying the quaint village.

Cannon Beach Bakery
Haystack Bread

Ecola State Park - We walked back to our vehicle via the beach and drove via 101 N up the coast to Ecola State Park. This is accessed just north of Cannon Beach.  There is a $5 fee per vehicle to enter the park.  We drove to the Indian Beach area inside the park, where we saw surfers enjoying the waves and picnickers taking advantage of the fine weather.  Matt and I took the Clatsop Loop Trail.  This hike is 2.5 miles round trip and provided views of the Tillamook Lighthouse (a decommissioned light house off Tillamook Head), large Sitka spruce forest, and Pacific Coast wildlife including butterflies, deer, and reptiles.  The trail is an easy to moderate challenge level and perfect for families.

Hiking Clatsop Loop
Tillamook Lighthouse viewed from Ecola State Park
Big Trees

We returned to Portland around 4 pm.  Our adventures on this beautiful day were the perfect end to our one week trip to Oregon that included exploring Portland, Mt. Hood, Central Oregon, and the Oregon Coast.  For more info about our trip, see the blog posts below:

Portland, Oregon - Biking, Beers, and Baristas
Cross the Cascades - A Scenic Drive from Portland to Sunriver
Glass Mountains and Lava Tubes

Tillamook Lighthouse

Please leave comments and questions below.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Glass Mountains and Lava Tubes

Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the
Deschutes National Forest in Bend, Oregon

This excursion provided opportunities for exotic adventures including climbing a mountain of glass, feeling of the spray of twin waterfalls, and stumbling through an underground lava cave. 

This week we traveled to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest during out Sunriver Vacation.  This destination is located in Bend, Oregon and is a must see attraction when visiting Central Oregon.

Here is how to recreate these adventures...

Obsidian at Newberry Crater

1.  Big Obsidian Flow:   A short, one mile loop hike will take you through a hill made of volcanic remains including pumice (light, porous rock) and obsidian (volcanic glass).  Wear sturdy, tough shoes when traveling on the trail, as walking on glass shards would be tough in sandals.  Also, dogs should not go on this trail because they could hurt their paws.  The short trail is definitely worth the climb as you get views of the mountains, pond below, and amazing geology.

Big Obsidian Flow
Big Obsidian Flow and Pond

2.  Paulina Falls:  These 80 foot side-by-side waterfalls are just a short walk (3 min) from the parking lot.  Additional hikes are in the area, but with limited time, it's easy to get a great peak at the beautiful falls.  There are picnic tables available nearby if you want to make it a lunch stop.

Paulina Falls
One of the Paulina Falls

3.  Lava River Cave:  Another must-experience stop in the park is the Lava tubes.  This one mile long tube is available to walk for no additional charge then the park fee (see below).  Wear warm clothes as the cave maintains a cool 40ยบ F temp.  You need a flashlight to explore the lava tube, as it is pitch black underground, however, propane lanterns are available at the site for rent at $5 a piece.  This site is open May-October from 9 am to 5 pm.  Check out the National Forest Website for more information.  Picnic tables are also available if you want to pack a lunch outside the caves.

Descending into Lava Cave
Taken with a flash in the Lava Tubes

More Info:

Challenge Level:  Easy for all!  Great Family Destinations.
Cost:  $5 day fee to enter park.
Location:  All destinations are off US 97 in Bend, Oregon

We loved our visit to Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  It was a unique and impressive spot.

Please leave comments and questions below...