Tag: hiking (Page 2 of 4)

Backyard Discoveries: The Shrine on Chihuahua Hill

If you’re up for a little bit of hike in Bisbee, AZ, the jaunt up Youngblood and Chihuahua Hill is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and to see life in this former mining town in a different way.

Like we mentioned in our handy itinerary, you can take OK Street up to the base of Youngblood Hill and take time to check out all the local homes (trust me, you’ll want to – they have a lot of character). If you start your journey earlier in the morning (maybe around 7 a.m.), you’ll benefit from pleasant temperatures and having the town (and trail)practically all to yourself before the sleepy town becomes a bustling tourist stop.

Blue Jesus (I’ve called him this because he is both literally painted blue and because of his sorrowful expression) is the marker of your trail up Youngblood, but also a good wake-up call for groggy hikers because from a distance you can’t tell if it’s a statue or a person waiting at the trail.

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A couple important notes before you ascend:

  • Beyond Blue Jesus is private property, so be polite and don’t go exploring a local’s front yard.
  • The path up to the hills is steep, narrow and slippery. If you’re not a strong hiker or don’t have appropriate shoes, it’s best to come back another time. There is also a bit of incline when getting to the top of both hills, so stay hydrated and listen to your body to stop when needed.

If you do make it up Chihuahua Hill, you are rewarded with a great view of the town below and are privy to a shrine that’s maintained by its residents. You can see some of our photos from the site below, but it’s really worth a visit in person. There’s a sense of peace, joy and love you get when you look at these colorful tributes.

Pay your respects and please move around with care.

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A Weekend in Bisbee: A Three-Day Itinerary for Nature and Culture in Southern AZ

Bisbee is a former mining town (current artist colony) south of Tucson near the AZ/Mexico border. It is the perfect place to experience historic, small town America.

Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ

Day One: Travel to Bisbee

The drive from Phoenix to Bisbee is about 3.5-4 hours depending on traffic.

Take your time driving down to scenic, little Bisbee.

If you leave in the morning or early afternoon; Tucson is a great place to stop by on the way.

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If you have time, the Mission San Xavier Del Bac or “White Dove of the Desert” is peaceful and great cultural stop in Tucson.

Day Two: Exploring Bisbee

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Can we tell you a little secret? 7 a.m. is prime strolling time around downtown Bisbee – not much is open, but the weather is wonderful and you get to walk around before the crowds.

 

If you are up for a morning stroll, walk up OK Street which will lead to the base of Youngblood Hill and will take you by some adorable Bisbee homes.

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You can a nice view of the town from either hill.

For strong hikers, there is also a trail at the end of the street that climbs up Chihuahua and Youngblood Hill. This path is steep, narrow and slippery, however, so hike at your own discretion. Be safe.

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There’s a shrine up on Chihuahua Hill that is definitely worth seeing. However, these are tributes to people’s loved ones so we cannot stress enough that the site needs to be treated with the utmost respect.

After going for a walk in the cool morning, head over to Lowell’s Bisbee Breakfast Club (http://bisbeebreakfastclub.com/locations/bisbee) for a diner experience, complete with massive portions.

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These pancakes are delicious and as big as your head – we’re not joking.

Head back to downtown Bisbee for a tour of the Copper Queen Mine (http://www.queenminetour.com/), where you will get to ride a little train into the heart of the mountain and learn about old copper mines from former miners. There are several tours throughout the day.

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These are our excited faces. But seriously, the mine tour is a must-see (especially if you’re a REALLY big fan of mining, or a history buff or just want to cool off.)

Spend the day strolling through Bisbee, checking out galleries, visiting historic hotels, and enjoying this small, colorful town.

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ALIENS.

After dinner, if it suits your fancy, wander the streets at night and learn about the many ghosts of this small town with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours (http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/). These take place at 7 p.m. each day of the week.

Day Two: Kartchner Caverns and Getting Home

Catch breakfast in Old Bisbee or Sierra Vista.

Stop by Kartchner Caverns (https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/) to see one of the United States’ most colorful, living caves. You will not be disappointed in this special, natural attraction. It is about an hour from Bisbee to Kartchner.

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In the Visitor’s Center, you can take silly photos in the replicas of cave openings that the Kartchner explorers had to squeeze through and be thankful they did all the work for you.

 

 

Stop for lunch in Benson or Tucson, and then head back to Phoenix. It is about 2.5 hours from Kartchner to Phoenix depending on traffic.

Ending Point: Phoenix, AZ

Prep:

  1. Reserve a place to stay.
  2. Reserve a tour with the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours and Kartchner Caverns.
  3. Learn about some of the historic landmarks in the town to visit.
  4. Know the weather! Stay safe.

Solid Gas/Food Stops Along the Way:

  1. Tucson
  2. Benson
  3. Tombstone

Note: There are numerous small towns that also dot the way to Bisbee, but if you want guaranteed gas stations, fuel up in Tucson or Benson.

Parking

  1. Mostly free parking in Bisbee (there’s like one paid lot in the entire city), but be prepared for the lots (which are small) to basically be full after 10 a.m., at least on weekends.
  2. There’s plenty of street parking available, it just depends on how far you’re willing to haul your butt up and down a hill.
  3. Before you park, check if it’s residential. Don’t be a jerk and park in someone’s spot.

Places to Stay:

  1. Copper Queen Hotel (http://www.copperqueen.com/): This is a historic hotel in the middle of town. Perfectly central to all Bisbee’s attractions, and a great place for ghostly activity (for anyone interested).
  2. Hotel Lamore/Bisbee Inn (http://bisbeeinn.com/): A smaller alternative to the Copper Queen, this place is just as historic and ghostly. But it has traditional shared bathrooms, it will really bring you back.
  3. Plenty of alternatives throughout the town, and some good AirBnbs as well.

Utah’s Mighty Five Roadtrip Summary

Day 0

Waited in line for 1.5 hours in order to pick up a rental car. I was extremely angry, until they gave me this beauty…

(c) ABR 2017

Day 1

We hiked 3.9 miles in Natural Bridges National Monument. I really wanted to hike the loop that went through the canyon here, but we didn’t have time. We settled for hiking down to each of the bridges instead. We also had to convince a ranger that we didn’t have anything against National Monuments, and we forgot the name of our hotel for the night since I left our itinerary at home.

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Day 2

It snowed over night, and while we were trying to drive up to the Moab area. Due to the weather, we skipped out on seeing the Needles sector of Canyonlands, and went up to Island in the Sky instead. It was windy and cold as heck, but we still managed to hike to the second overlook of Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Grand View, and Mesa Arch (7.3 miles). We dressed really warmly so that we could stay out in the weather, and people kept commenting on how prepared we were. When we got back into town, we met someone who had flipped their car in the storm that we had driven through. It was a sobering moment.

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Day 3

Fearing crowds, we got into Arches early and hiked to Delicate Arch first thing. Luckily, the weather was much nicer this day. Nice enough that we actually managed to take our jackets off (unlike the day before), and enjoy our picnic lunch without freezing. After seeing the arch that is on most Utah license plates, we checked out many other arches, and managed to hike another 7.4 miles.

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Day 4

Capitol Reef was probably the least developed park of the five, but we started the day off by visiting another arch. I wasn’t expecting to be super excited about it, after Arches, but it was actually really cool. We also climbed up to a view point of historic Fruita, where Fremont Native Americans and then Mormon farmers lived, and walked through Capitol Gorge (6.5 miles hiked this day). This park felt a little disorganized, but it was nice to escape the crowds, and I loved the variation.

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Day 5

Bryce Canyon was… mindblowing. I had no idea that Thunder Mountain in Disneyland was based on a real place, but here it is! Hoodoos every where, and even though we had to slip down ice, and slog through mud, the hiking here was wonderful. We visited Tower Bridge (another arch, go figure), and then wandered through the Queen’s Garden (where the trail winds through the hoodoos) and by the end that day we had hiked 6.4 miles. It was beautiful, and blessedly not all that crowded.

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Day 6

Our last day was a mix of proud and disappointing moments. We wanted to hike Angel’s Landing, but the ranger at the gate freaked us out about parking, and there were only nasty port-a-potties at the visitor center. So, the start to the day was awkward. But we did find parking, and we powered up the steep incline of Angel’s Landing to the saddle before the part of the trail that crosses the spine of the mountain. I was scared, there were cliffs on either side, but it was worth it! I was so proud of us for making if up the cliffside and facing our fears, and we finished the trail in nearly half the time that the park signs thought we would. After lunch, we also made it out to Emerald Pools. But that was it for us and Zion, because it was so busy. There was no parking and it definitely turned us off a little bit. 7 miles hiked!

(c) ABR 2017

The Nature of Florida

So, I’ve established two things about Florida so far (1) the Florida Keys can be a destination for hikers, and (2) this state has a lot of forts. As much as I love Disney, I didn’t see a single theme park while I was there. So, yes, there are a lot of off-the-beaten-path destinations in Florida, and there is hiking to be had for those us of that love seeing nature. But just what IS nature like in the home of Disney World? I imagined lots of swamps, with beaches on the edges, but it turns out (unsurprisingly), that the nature of Florida is really complex, with a variety of ecosystems (or groups of plants and animals associated with certain environmental conditions) to enjoy. Here are some of the ecosystems that I got to explore in Florida.

Ecosystems of Florida

Sea Island Flatwoods in Fort Caroline NM, Jacksonville

(c) ABR 2016

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Palmetto Forests in Cape Canaveral National Seashore, Titusville

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Hardwook Hammock on Windly Key, Florida Keys

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Sandy Beaches in the Dry Tortugas NP

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Cypress Forest in Big Cypress National Preserve

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Bay Head in a Grass River of the Everglades NP

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Pinelands of the Everglades NP

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Mangroves of the Everglades NP

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nature of florida

Sandstone, Sweet Sandstone: Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park

I was in Las Vegas recently and though it has its many charms (and vices), I think it can get a liiiiittle overwhelming.

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I mean, what isn’t just INCREDIBLY charming about a large shoe?

If you’re looking to get away from the glitz and gambling (and TERRIFYING street performers) of Sin City, have no fear, nature is here to cradle you in its sweet, sandy arms.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Valley of Fire State Park in Moapa Valley (which I sadly did NOT get to visit), Nevada and Zion National Park in Utah are all features that are under 3 hours away.

Some quick tips before you step foot into ANY of these places. If you aren’t keen on reading further, at least read this:

  • Bring lots of water – often at visitors centers or at the head of a trail their will be a water fountain or water refill station, but if you’re out on the trail, you’re probably out of luck
  • Which brings me to my next point, GO before you go (I stole this phrase from a Zion sign) – hit the bathroom before you hit the trail and scope out any other pit stops along the way
  • If a sign says DON’T do something – like don’t stray from the trail, don’t swim in the water, don’t feed the deer – then don’t do these things, it’s safer for you and the surrounding environment
  • Lastly, it’s never a bad idea to check the websites of these places for weather conditions or any other alerts like a trail or park closure – it would be a real bummer to drive all the way only to find out the trail you wanted to hike is closed

Now onto the good stuff!

Red Rock Canyon

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Much red. So rock. Wow.

Red Rock Canyon is a great place for hikers, bikers, climbers and it’s barely 30 minutes out from the Las Vegas Strip. If you’re one of those I’d-rather-admire-nature-from-the-car types (or your feet are hurting from walking up and down the Strip because you’re too cheap to pay for parking), they have a one-way scenic drive for some easy 40-minute cruisin’.

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Climbers gon’ climb.

There’s a fee per car, per bike or per pedestrian but these are really minimal – we paid $7 for our car – but check the website for fees if you’re really concerned.

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If you love rocks, this is the place to be. If you don’t love rocks, it’s still pretty cool.

Plenty of stops along the way of the drive for you to enjoy the activity you prefer. Ask for a map when you pay your fee or when you stop at the visitor center (or check it out online, which I would do before you arrive, because cell service in no bueno due to canyon). I did a little bit of exploring and photographing – I think I’d like to dedicate myself to an actual hike the next time I visit.

Zion National Park

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OOOOOOOOOH.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is just a bit over two-and-a-half hours away from Las Vegas, so dedicating a day to it is pretty easy to do, not just because the drive, but because of how much there is to see.

There are nine designated stops inside of the park and they have a pretty nifty shuttle system that runs through Springdale (the town outside of Zion) and the rest of the canyon. It’s a great way to avoid any parking problems and it’s also FREE-NINETY-NINE (meaning, you know, free). It seems to run in early Spring – Late Fall/Early Winter. We were there during Thanksgiving weekend and that seemed to be the last shuttle run. Private vehicles are also allowed to drive along the same scenic drive.

Although the shuttle is free, there is a fee to get into the park. And be forewarned, if you go during a holiday/holiday weekend, it will be crowded as HECK.

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AHHHHHHH.

I could ramble on for days about the trails, camping and climbing available, the cute little Zion lodge you can stay at or just how beautiful it is, but my words and these few photos cannot do it justice. You simply have to see for yourself how vast and HUGE these formations are.

I’d like to boogie on back here some day soon (when it’s warmer, because I’m a big baby) to do some serious hiking and exploring. I encourage you, if you’re visiting to slow down and take some time, to not just only enjoy Zion but to check out the picturesque small towns on the way in.

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10/10 would canyon again.

If you were waffling about visiting either of these places, I hope this makes you decidedly un-waffled and that you take the plunge!

Until next time, safe travels!

xx
Katie

Top 10 Things to Do in Haiti

  1. Le Citadelle
Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

This is the landmark that I wanted to see most in Haiti, and it was everything I hoped that it would be. Le Citadelle is the massive fort that was built overlooking Cap-Haitien by the Haitian army after France was defeated. It was meant to protect the north from any attempt by the French to take back the colony, but such an attack never came. Now Le Citadelle is a UNESCO World Heritage open for visitors to learn about the history and heritage of the Haitian people. In order to tour the fortress, you first need to hike or ride a mule up a steep, cobblestone path. People with mules will follow you up the trail if you opt to hike, just in case you get tired, but it is just fine to keep going on foot. The fortress itself is well worth the struggle up the hill, for those of you uncertain about hiking, and the views of the verdant, surrounding mountains definitely add to the appeal.

  1. San Souci Palace
San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace is just down the mountain from Le Citadelle, and it is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. However, this beautiful ruin wasn’t as developed or crowded as the fortress. Here, we were guided through the building by a guide from the nearby town, and the only other people there were a couple locals enjoying the views and shade of the high walls. We learned that San Souci Palace was the home of Henri Christophe, also known as King Henri I, after the country won its independence from France. When it was built, San Souci was said to rival Versailles, and after seeing Le Citadelle, I could imagine that this was true. Much like the fortress, this site tells an important story about the history of this often misunderstood Caribbean country.

  1. Grotto Marie-Jeanne
Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Ever since I first visited Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, I have been in love with caves, and so far, I have had the opportunity to visit some in almost every country that I have visited. Haiti was no exception, thanks to the itinerary that Tour Haiti put together, and the cavern that we visited was Grotto Marie-Jeanne west of Port Salut. This cave was not well developed compared to some others that I have visited, but that was honestly something that I found very attractive about it. One half of the cave was easily accessible to the whole tour group via some stone steps. The other part of the cave required that we crawl through some narrow spaces, and carefully climb down some steep and slippery inclines. I would only suggest this for people that are good hikers and sure on their feet, but it was really cool. It was a true caving experience, even though it was not technical, so that was quite unique.

  1. Bassin Bleu
Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu is one of the most popular, natural attractions in Haiti, and it is essentially a waterfall and a deep, stone swimming hole. Getting here is difficult, as the road to the trailhead passes through the river, and is quite steep. There is also a bit of a hike from the parking area to Bassin Bleu, which isn’t all that difficult for hikers, but might be hard for people not used it. The walk is quite beautiful, however. There are several pools below Bassin Bleu, as well as the river, which you cross on the walk there. Bleu itself, as its name suggests, has blue water, and it is deep enough to jump from the rocks into the water (but follow guide instructions for safety). There is also a lovely waterfall here that has a little nook behind it, where you can relax and enjoy this little, tropical oasis. It is a bit busy here, however, so it is good to go as early as you can.

  1. Beaches (Cap-Haitien, Jacmel-area, and Port Salut)
Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

The Caribbean is known for its beaches, and Haiti is no exception, so it only makes sense to experience some of the country’s coasts. My favorite beach was north of Cap-Haitian, because it was very unique. The sand was dark here, and there were cacti growing on the coast; it was unlike any other beach that I have seen in the region. Alternatively, the beaches of Port Salut were nice, white sand that was fun to stroll along. Sadly, this area was hit quite hard by the recent hurricane, so I am not sure what the current state of this place was. However, there are many beautiful beaches in Haiti for the ocean-lover.

  1. The Observatoire
The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

In the mountains above Port-au-Prince is a little bar that sits on the one of the best views of the city that you can get as a tourist. Catching a sunset here should be a priority if you are spending any time in Port-au-Prince. This viewpoint reveals the city’s beautiful side, and getting to see the surrounding mountains and the coast all at once really paints the perfect picture of just what a dynamic area Port-au-Prince sits in. The drive up here is beautiful, if steep and sometimes crowded, and the restaurant itself is a wonderful place to relax in the open air and take it all in.

  1. Jacmel
Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

This little coastal town is a well-known tourist destination in Haiti. Besides its historic marketplace near the port, the mosaic along the shore is a common sight in pictures of the town. However, a good guide will show you the city’s other works of art as well. There are mosaics all over the city, and all but the one on the beach were done by the town’s own artists, many of them children. Jacmel is also the perfect place to buy paper mache, which is a true art form in Haiti. When I initially heard about it, I was imagining that stuff we all made in elementary school, but this is some real sturdy and beautiful paper mache, a must-buy in Haiti.

  1. Explore Port-au-Prince
The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

This is low down on my list, just above two things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t able to, because Port-au-Prince actually kind of scares me. I have just heard so many bad things about this city through the media, and through some of my contacts in Haiti as well. That being said, I’m not sure a trip to Haiti would be complete without seeing some of the capital, and if you go with a good guide, it is no problem. The iron market in Port-au-Prince is really amazing, and has been rebuilt since the earthquake; it is also a great place to pick up souvenirs. Hotel Olofson is a wonderful stop, because of its historic and beautiful architecture, and Petion-Ville has some nice restaurants and bars to check out as well.

  1. Ile-a-Vache

I haven’t actually been to this location (or the next), but if I ever had the chance to travel back to Haiti, this is one of the places that would be at the top of my list of places to see. Ile-a-Vache is a small island off of the southern coast of Haiti, which is known for its pristine beaches. Based on what I have heard, I actually think that this may be one of the most untouched coastal areas of the Caribbean, but that is changing rapidly. Resorts and cruise ships have set their sights on this little slice of paradise, so if you visit here in the future, please be sure to support local people- find out what hotels and restaurants are owned by Haitians (and are safe) and give them a try. Anything owned by a large company is almost guaranteed to send most of your money out of the country.

For more information on this stop, check out Nerdy Nomad’s Post on Ile-a-Vache

  1. Pic la Selle: The Highest Peak in Haiti

Hiking is probably my favorite thing, period. So, while I had an amazing time in Haiti, I really missed it. Some of my fellows on the tour that I took to explore the country would consider the walk up to Le Citadelle to be a hike, but it was paved and it wasn’t all that long of a walk. So, for people like me, I would suggest trying something a little harder. Here I have listed Pic la Selle, the highest mountain in Haiti, because I love bagging high points (but I am no mountaineer). That being said, this isn’t actually a hike that I have done, and I am sure that there are alternative options for hiking in Haiti as well. I am listing some resources below for further info:

Summit Post Entry on Pic la Selle

Trekking in Haiti

Summing Up the Trip to Scotland

Made with Google Maps

Made with Google Maps

Day 1: Rest in Edinburgh. We took this day to explore the Royal Mile a little bit, and travelled by bus. Accommodation: AirBnb

Day 2: Edinburgh to Inverness (~3.5 hour drive). People in Edinburgh were dubious that we could make this drive in a day, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is because these people weren’t used to driving long distances. Google Maps says that this drive takes about 3.5 hours, although the two lane roads will slow you down. I would suggest leaving early in the morning for this drive, as there are some really cool things to see on the way. We stopped to hike around Loch Morlich in Cairngorm National Park. The hike was great, but we ended up not being able to ride the train up Cairngorm because we were too late. Accommodation: Touchwood House – This place was quaint but nice, and with free breakfast. It is also in a VERY nice neighborhood of Inverness.

Day 3: Inverness to Wick (2.5 hour drive). We drove a little out of our way on this day in order to see Urquhart Castle. The castle itself is mostly in ruins, but it is located on the shore of Loch Ness, so it is a great stop. Accommodation: Ackergill Tower– This is a very expensive hotel built on the northern coast of Scotland in what appears to be a stately castle. If you have the money to stay here, I would recommend it. For more info on this leg of the journey, see my blog entry here.

Day 4: Wick to Lochinver (~4+ hours). Our first stop this day was John O’Groats, or Scotland’s most northern point (not including its islands). Then we headed down into the highlands, and stopped at Smoo Cave on the way. This was the most scenic day of driving, but it was also fairly difficult. This part of road has many long sections of one lane roads- yes, one lane. You have to drive slowly, and when someone is coming in the opposite direction, you need to pull over and let people pass. It is not a place for impatient or rude drivers, so if you drive yourself out this way, be sure to expect to travel at a leisurely place, and be prepared to let people pass you in either direction. Accommodation: Inver Lodge Hotel– Nice, but pretty standard.

Day 5: Lochinver to Shieldaig (~2.5 hours). We did a good amount of hiking on this day as we took our time traveling south. This included a leisurely stroll in Little Assynt Estate, and a hike along the coast near Gairloch. Here we learned that you should be prepared for mud and ticks when hiking in the highlands. For more info on this leg of the journey, see my blog entry here. Accommodation: The Shieldaig Lodge: Very cozy little place, that has some nice character and good food. I would highly recommend it.

Day 6: Shieldaig to Portree (~2 hours straight). We did a lot more driving on this day than the time between the two cities that we stayed in suggests, because we took this day to not only get to the Isle of Skye, but to explore as well. We went to the Fairy Pools first, had to park about a mile away from the trailhead due to how busy it was, and then we hiked for a couple hours. After that we went to Dunvegan Castle, which I would honestly say wasn’t worth leaving the pools early to see. It was my least favorite of the castles we experienced. After that, we drove around the northern peninsula of the island, hitting the Museum of Island Life, the Kilt Rocks, and we stopped for a far away picture of the Old Man of Skorr (which was again very busy so we opted to not walk all the way down the street). Accommodation: The Portree Hotel. This was a nice historic hotel, with pretty small but updated rooms, and a nice restaurant.

Day 7: Portree to Oban (~3.5 hours). On the way down to Oban, we stopped at the Nevis Range, and took the gondolas as high as they go. There was some beautiful hiking up there, as well as a restaurant, which didn’t have great food, but it was a nice enough snack. I wanted to actually hike Ben Nevis, but we weren’t prepared, so this was a nice alternative. In the evening, we went to explore Oban, but we didn’t really find much to do there. Accommodation: The Royal Hotel. This was our second to least favorite hotel on the trip, so I would suggest staying somewhere else if possible, and if you have to stay here, don’t allow them to put you on the top floor. It is really really hot up there in the summer.

Day 8: Oban. We took the Three Island Tour on this day, hitting the Isle of Mull, Staffa, and Iona. Sadly, this tour doesn’t spend much of any time on Mull at all, you just drive across the island with an automated explanation for a few things. The visit to Staffa and Iona was perfect though, and I really enjoyed this day. For more info on the Inner Hebrides, see my blog entry here.

Day 9: Oban to Edinburgh (~3 hours). On our way back down to Edinburgh, we stopped in Stirling (I would have loved to see Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park as well, but we didn’t have time). While there we spent a few hours at Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, both of which I would recommend. Accommodation: Dalmahoy Marriot. After staying in Scottish hotels throughout our trip, this was place a rude awakening to the mediocre nature of cookie-cutter hotels. More so, this was an expensive hotel that didn’t live up to its price, in my opinion. The food and service at their restaurant was subpar and there is nothing included in the price of the room (aka no free wifi).

Day 10: Edinburgh. We went back to the Royal Mile for the day. We really needed more time there, and we managed to hike up Arthur’s Seat, see Edinburgh Castle, and do Mary King’s Close in one day. Of these, I would really highly suggest Arthur’s Seat to anyone who enjoys hiking, although it is just as busy as you would expect an urban hike. Mary King’s Close is also a great tour to check out as you get to see a new side of Edinburgh and learn from neat history along the way.

Day 11: Caerlaverock and Craignethan Castles. We ran out of things to do in Edinburgh, and got tired of the crowds, so we drove down south to see some more castles. Both of these are more like ruins than the Stirling or Edinburgh Castles, but they are in better shape than Urquhart. I would highly suggest them to anyone with the means to make it out there, as they are fun to explore and are surrounded by some lovely countryside. See Castles and Cities of Scotland for more information.

Another note for hikers:

(1) Walkinghighlands.com was the best resource that I found for looking up hikes in Scotland. If you are hoping to do some hiking (walking) in the wilderness, please give this website a peek. They rate the trails, and provide really good directions.

For September 1st, I am not going to be posting new material. The semester is starting up again, so I think it will be nice to have a little break, but I also want to get some pages up on my blog here and get all my social media outlets connected. So, I will be working on that for the next couple weeks.

Exploring the Inner Hebrides On Skye, Mull, Staffa, and Iona

(c) Wikipedia

(c) Wikipedia

Our adventures in the Inner Hebrides began in the Isle of Skye, and then through the Isle of Mull, Isle of Staffa, and the Isle of Iona. Of these, Staffa and Iona were my favorite and I will honestly say that we didn’t see much of Mull, although I would have loved to hike there.

Fairy Pools (c) ABR 2016

Fairy Pools (c) ABR 2016

The Isle of Skye is somewhere that everyone seems to love, but I found it a little disappointing after the highlands. The landscapes were beautiful and the culture is unique, but in terms of sheer amazement, the highlands took the gold and the Isle of Skye had far more tourists, which made parking and exploring that much harder. My favorite thing on the island, by far, was the Fairy Pools. We had to park about a kilometer away from them due to how busy they were but there were less and less people the further we went down the trail. The stream and the mountains were everything that I had been led to believe that the Isle of Skye was- breathtaking, somewhat eery, but inarguably beautiful. I only wish we had had more time to explore there. But we wanted to visit the Dunvegan Castle before it closed so we only had about 2 hours at the pools. Sadly, of all the castles that we saw, this one was the least interesting in my opinion. There wasn’t much to its museum, and the castle was really more like a mansion than anything else. After that, with time to spare, we

Museum of Island Life (c) ABR 2016

Museum of Island Life (c) ABR 2016

decided to drive the rest of the island before arriving in Portree for the night. While the Museum of Island Life was a very interesting look into the historical and current state of island life in Skye, the rest of the drive was just not comparable to what we had already seen. Kilt Rock was a nice stop for a few minutes, but the Old Man of Skorr was too crowded for us to really stop at. There was no where to park and we weren’t willing to hike down the street like we had for the Fairy Pools.

Countryside of Mull (c) ABR 2016

Countryside of Mull (c) ABR 2016

For the other three Inner Hebrides that we visited, we went to on a “Three Island Tour.” While I was overall very happy with this experience, I think that the better name for it would be the “Two Island Tour and a Drive Across Mull,” because while we spent the perfect amount of time of the Isle of Staffa and Iona, all we did was take a bus across Mull to get there. The bus included an automated tour as we drove across, but I found that very underwhelming. It would have been much nicer to have a bus driver that could actually talk to us about what we were seeing. For anyone thinking of spending some time in Scotland’s isles, I would highly suggest setting aside more time for Mull, as it looked very beautiful from the bus and had some intriguing history and folklore.

Staffa (c) ABR 2016

Staffa (c) ABR 2016

Staffa, best known for Fingal’s Cave, is a small island off of Mull. Here you find the same strange formations as on the other side of the sea in the Giant’s Causeway of Ireland. These giant columns some how formed (I don’t claim to be a geologist) during an ancient volcanic eruption, and during this time, created the island that we now know as Staffa. Visitors to the island can walk to Fingal’s cave, which is at sea level and is only fully accessible by kayak, although you can walk in a ways. I actually found the stroll to the cave more interesting than the cave itself, as this involved walking over the tops of the columns, and which gave you a sense for just how big and alien they are. There are also some tide pools in the area, but you have to exercise caution when approaching them because the surf can crash up over the rocks and there is no good place to climb out of the water if you get swept in. The best part of Staffa wasn’t either of these, however, because the island is also home to

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

puffins. If you climb the metals stairs up from where the tour boats leave you, and walk a ways through the green, wild grass on top of the island, you may be lucky enough to find these beautiful birds as they hunt, struggle to fly (I love their stubby wings), and play with one another. I do have my concerns about what the human presence on Staffa does to the puffins, as they are being observed for much of the day. This sort of attention can disturb animals and stop them from feeding, taking care of their young, or resting as much as they need to. So, if you visit, please be sure to be very respectful of these little guys, move slowly and be very quiet. Also, please educate other visitors about avoiding disturbance for these special birds.

Abbey on Iona (c) ABR 2016

Abbey on Iona (c) ABR 2016

Our final stop in the Inner Hebrides was the Isle of Iona. Now, as a fan of the Secret of Kells, I was really excited to stop here, and it was one of the most spiritual places I have visited. I’ve only previously experienced the same sort of spiritual experience in Japan and on Skellig Michael, so Iona is very special to me, especially since it has connections to my own religion. The island itself is a very peaceful place. It is easy to meander from the dock through the little, quiet town to the abbey. There are some small shops and restaurants here and there, as well as people driving the small roads (so please be courteous and make way for the residents), but it a breath of fresh air from modern life otherwise. The abbey itself has a little museum, which covers the history of the island, the abbey, and the people who stuck it out there despite constant attacks by the Vikings. Of course, there is a cathedral to visit, as well as a graveyard and a beautiful, rustic chapel. It is a very welcoming place, and a good representation of a loving Christian faith, being supportive of LGBTA, refugees, and gender equality. It just felt good to be there besides the amazing architecture and Celtic art that really makes this place unique when it comes to beautiful views and a place to explore.

My next post on August 15th will sum up the trip to Scotland and offer some suggestions to anyone that is thinking about going there and who might want to do something similar to our trip. After that, I am debating writing a piece about dealing with anxiety while traveling or diving into my journey to Haiti.

Castles and Cities of Scotland

View of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat (c) ABR 2016

View of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat (c) ABR 2016

My favorite part of our sojourn through Scotland was the highlands, hands down! But I would be remiss if I did not talk about Edinburgh and some of the castles that we saw. All right, the title says “cities,” but Castle and City just doesn’t sound catchy enough.

Edinburgh Castle (c) ABR 2016

Edinburgh Castle (c) ABR 2016

Our trip to Scotland started and ended in Ebinburgh, and while we were there, we spent most of our time on the Royal Mile. Even for outdoor buffs, this is a great place to spend a day or two, and it has all the things that most tourists like to check out while in the city. It goes without saying that there is a lot of tourist souvenir shops here, but there are also some authentic places along the way as well. There is great food all up and down the mile, as well as a lovely little tea room called Clarindas Tea Room that we made a point of visiting both days that we were in the area. Of course, I think the major draw to the Royal Mile, besides the food, shopping, and architecture, is Edinburgh Castle. It is a massive castle, and being there still impresses upon visitors the power of its original owners. Even so, I felt like it was more of a museum experience than a historic castle experience, but for those of you that really enjoy museums, I am sure that you will enjoy both aspects of this attraction. You could easily spend a few hours here exploring, and even if you don’t enjoy museums all that much (like myself) there are some very nice views of the city and the buildings themselves are beautiful. ALSO, before I dive into talking about castles more, if you are into castles and plan on seeing a bunch of them, check out some of the passes that are available, because we bought an Explorer Pass for the trip and it saved us a good chunk of money. Here is a link to the Scotland Historical Association which discusses the passes.

Caerlaverock Castle (c) ABR 2016

Caerlaverock Castle (c) ABR 2016

There were two things on the Royal Mile that were my favorite though, and neither the castle nor the shopping/dining scene won out. The first was Arthur’s Seat. This is a great spot for a little urban hiking, and if you aren’t going on a road trip out into the highlands, it is actually a nice spot to experience some Scottish nature, complete with gorse, and bugs of all sorts. Of course, this is a popular spot for people exercising and tourists, so it can get busy. If you want some peace and quiet, try going during the week. The second place that I really loved in downtown Edinburgh was the Real Mary King’s Close. This was a tour that we took which explores a now-subterranean street of old Edinburgh. You can’t take any pictures on the tour, so I don’t have any here, but it gave me a really clear (if somewhat horrifying) picture of what life was really like back in the day. We all know that it wasn’t just castles, and knights, and royalty, but that is most of what’s left of those times makes it feel that way. Seeing the ruins of what the city really was and how most people lived was very interesting. Furthermore, the guides on this tour are great and they get into character like you can’t believe. It was just an overall enjoyable experience, and I highly recommend it.

Now, in terms of castles, these were all the ones that I saw from my favorite to my least favorite: (1) Caerlaverock Castle, (2) Craignethan Castle, (3) Urquhart Castle, (4) Stirling Castle, and (5) Edinburgh Castle. So, over the course of two weeks we saw five castles, and this definitely wasn’t something that I was planning since I am more of an outdoor type, but after the fact, I would really suggest checking a handful of them out, especially if you have a car. And get the Explorer Pass if this ends up being your plan. Now, Edinburgh Castle I discuss briefly above, and I wasn’t a fan because I am extremely picky when it comes to museums, and it was also very busy there when we visited. Urquhart I discussed here.

Craignethan Castle isn't much to look at from the outside, but the rooms are very fun to explore! (c) ABR 2016

Craignethan Castle isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the rooms are very fun to explore! (c) ABR 2016

My two favorite castles were two that we visited on-the-fly on our last day, because we were tired of Edinburgh. The first of the two, Caerlaverock Castle, is far south near the Scottish/English border, and was just super interesting because of how different it was. It is a ruin, so don’t go expecting anything like Stirling or Edinburgh castles, but it takes less imagination to put it all back together than Urquhart. What’s really cool about this particular castle is that is was built on a triangular plan, and it has some interesting examples of mixed architectural styles from Scotland and the rest of Europe that I didn’t see anywhere else. Now, my second favorite, Craignethan Castle, isn’t much to look at from the outside, but once you walk in, it is just amazing to explore. The rooms are very well preserved here, in terms of the structure of the building, and again, despite it being a ruin, it isn’t hard to bring the an image to your mind of this place in its better years. An added benefit to this castle is that it is right next to the Nethan Gorge, where you can take a short hike.

Stirling Castle (c) ABR 2016

Stirling Castle (c) ABR 2016

Finally, Stirling Castle– this place is fairly similar to Edinburgh as compared to the other castles that I mention above, but here they have been working on restoring the castle’s outside and rooms to what it once was. I know that there were a lot of people who weren’t happy with it being partially painted its historical color, but personally, I like when these things are done. I’d rather see what it was meant to look like than what we imagine simply due to having lived with the aged version for so long. I get where the other side is coming from, but on a personal level, I just like these efforts when carried out with care. And let me say, while there were museum sections here, my favorite part of the castle was the reconstructed section. While we were there, we chatted with some very friendly and knowledgeable staff, it was such an enjoyable learning experience. The other draw for us in Stirling was the Wallace Monument, which again, had lots of museum bits in it, so I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was pretty fun to climb all the stairs and the architecture of this building is worth a look for sure.

All right! Internet and God willing, I will be back in about two weeks with an entry on our adventures in the Inner Hebrides. And after that, I will sum up our experiences in Scotland with an easy-to-use fact sheet on where we went, and what places I highly recommend for people with similar interests. Please leave sweet, thoughtful comments and questions below, and I will get back to you ASAP. Until next time- explore safely!

Wallace Monument (c) ABR 2016

Wallace Monument (c) ABR 2016

The Scottish N500: The Scenic West Coast of Scotland Part Two

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Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

Waterfall in Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

Waterfall in Smoo Cave (c) ABR 2016

One of our first stops on the N500, after John O’Groats, was a place called Smoo Cave . I simply love caves (although I have not had the chance to go caving, I have visited caves in several different countries and continue to make it a priority when I travel), so based on that and my immediate love for the name, I just had to check this place out. The outer part of the cave that opens out onto the beach is a sea cave, while the inner cave, past the waterfall is a karst cavern. For the casual passerby, there is a section of Smoo that is freely available to anyone that hikes down the path that winds its way down the sea cliffs from the parking lot to the beach-front. This includes a large, stone room that is covered by a thin carpet of green, and a wooden walkway that leads back to a view of the waterfall that is the main visual prize of the location if you can’t go on the tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the tour ourselves, although it was very affordable, because we weren’t sure when the last group had left, and we didn’t want to wait around for a half hour for the next one. Pretty lame excuse! But we did still have a lot of driving left to do, and the weather was steadily going downhill, so we weren’t even sure that there would be another tour at that time, since rain can cause flooding in the cave.

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The bridge between Loch a’ Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh (c) ABR 2016

The views coming south from Smoo Cave south to Lochinver were some of my favorite from the trip, and heavens, I was sad that we weren’t prepared for a hard hike. For one, if you ever drive this way- please stop at the turn off just north of the bridge between Loch a’ Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh. The bridge isn’t particularly artful, although it is oddly pleasing to the eye… perhaps due to the juxtaposition of the concrete structure and the towering highland mountains beyond. The Lochs are breathtaking too, and I hate to say it, but in my opinion, much more beautiful than Loch Ness, although they are much smaller and lack a prehistoric monster (as far as we know). Driving past the bridge (south) you will then get some great views of the mountains that have stuck in my mind ever since the trip- three peaked Quinag to the west and Glas Bheinn to the east. Even when we visited the Isle of Skye, there were not mountains that outmatched these for beauty and mystique, in my opinion. And regardless, they are both great examples of highland mountains, and worth a gander if you like challenging hiking.

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Little Assynt Estate (c) ABR 2016

There is also some easier walks that you can check out on the way down from Lochinver to Gairloch. For instance, the Little Assynt Estate has a very nice area to walk around in with great views of a little loch and the mountains, as well as a place to sit and relax (and maybe fish as well?). The trails are dry and mostly flat here as well, so they make for a nice break from driving if you don’t have the proper equipment for a highland hike. We also walked up from Gruinard Bay to Eas Dubh Falls – which was a nice stroll along the beach, but the hike itself, up from the ocean into the hills to the waterfall, was quite boggy. Due to this, and our lack of proper, high-top hiking boots, forced us to walk through the bracken more than I would have liked, and I ended up getting a tick. So, do plan ahead, bring good, waterproof shoes, and be aware that Scotland does, in fact, have ticks. I definitely did not regret this second hike, however, as the waterfall was beautiful and the trail was deserted.

If you want to see more picture of my journey through Scotland, as well as past pictures, check out my travel Tumblr here.

On July 1st, I am planning on posting about the cities and castles of Scotland.

Feel free to leave relevant comments and/or questions below.

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Eas Dubh Falls (c) ABR 2016

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