5.30.09: Fiery Gizzard Trail, Monteagle TN

Waterfalls, gorges, breathtaking views, streams, forests and boulders the size of houses.  This trail has it all. The Fiery Gizzard Trail has been rated as one of the best in the Southeastern United States and one of the most challenging in all of Tennessee. 13 grueling miles encompassing about 1000 feet in elevation change…and the verdict is…this trail really is AMAZING.   The views, gorges, waterfalls, streams and forest are totally worth the strenuous hike.  We spent roughly 9 hours on the trail and I’m completely worn out, but again, totally worth it.  This hike is difficult and I would not recommend it for beginners or young kids (unless they are getting a free ride in a backpack!). Since I’m too tired to think, much less type, here are some descriptions and pictures.  Seriously, my arms and hands are still shaking in agony.  Oh, and The River Monster did awesome and really enjoyed the day.  We made sure he had plenty of play time where he could get in the water and run on the trail.  He’s still talking about the “wawa” (waterfalls):

Description of the trail from FSCSRA:

This thirteen mile one-way trail features cascading streams, numerous waterfalls, panoramic overlooks, extremely rocky gorges, gentle slopes and lush woodlands.  This trail is one of the most diverse and beautiful in the state and has been ranked as one of the top twenty-five backpacking trails in the U.S. by Backpacker Magazine.

Description taken from the map:

 This trail is perhaps one of the most divers and beautiful in Tennessee. The section which starts at the Grundy Forest Natural Area picnic shelter and climbs the plateau to Raven Point is possibly on of the most rugged and difficult trails in Tennessee.  The terrain in the gorge is steep and extremely rocky.  The millions of rocks you must step on, or across, all seem to move as you step on them, making the footing very precarious.  The section from Raven Point to Foster Falls is a completely different sort of experience.  A full 90 % of this section is on the easy terrain of gentle slopes and flatness on top of the Cumberland Plateau.  An exception to this is the 10 % which crosses Laurel Branch Gorge.  The trail drops precipitously into theis 200′-deep tributary of Little Gizzard Creek and climbs very steeply out after fording the rocky stream.


We actually began our hike at Foster Falls and ended the trail at Grundy Forest.  I prefer it this way as my favorite section is the part leading to Grundy forest…the portion towards Foster Falls is a bit boring in my opinion.  It’s always nice to finish on a high note 😉






Ooh, nice view:


Hey honey, watch your step:



Splash break:


The lunch stop:


After about 10 miles and 1000 feet in elevation change, we had to take a break to rest our feet and to cool off.

Ahrg, urhg..uh, oooh…


…ahhhhhh, spring fed creek water (read: cold) feels nice and numbing…


We continued onward with one motivation in mind…the upcoming blue hole that happens to be an awesome swimming spot.



 Taking a break:


Could there have been a more goofy picture of me?  Whatever, I’ll take what I can get since I’m the one normally behind the camera:


The swimming hole, FI-NAL-LY:


At the top of Foster Falls:



Wow.  Now THAT was a hike. I’ll be adding this one to the “take a hike” tab.  Now, I need to go lie down with a cold drink 🙂

Favorite Photo Friday: The Blue Ridge Parkway


{taken along the Blue Ridge Parkway–which runs between the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks….October 2007}

We took the parkway home from our trip to Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina (which, btw, is a great hiking destination!).  We followed it through the Smoky Mountains and then jumped back on the interstate to finally make our way home.  The parkway is spotted with scenic views, great walks, and lots of wildlife and plants.  Definitely glad we took the time to drive it.

I left my heart (and my sweat) in Vietnam


For this edition of the Wednesday Catch-up, I thought I’d go ahead and start talking about some of our “favorite places.”  This post will be added under the tab at the top of our blog that says (you guessed it) “favorite places.”  I bet some of you already know where I’m going with this…Vietnam…more specifically, Ha Long Bay.  I’m going to post some photos that I’ve never shared with anyone before.  I also want to write in detail about our visit before the memories start to fade.  So here it is, my Ha Long Bay post…


We loved every part of our Vietnam trip, but the most breathtaking place we visited was Ha Long Bay and it deserves a post all it’s own. Ha Long literally means Descending Dragon. The bay is a World Heritage site located in the Quang Ninh province of Vietnam and it sits in the Gulf of Tonkin (see below), a part of the South China Sea.


(taken from Wikipedia)

The bay is home to thousands of limestone karsts and isles that are 500 million years in the making, which makes for a spectacular site.  The legend of the “descending dragon” can be summarized from this excerpt from Wikipedia:

Local legend has it that long ago, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. The people kept their land safe and formed what later became the country of Vietnam. After that, dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth and decided to live here then. The place where Mother Dragon flew down was named Hạ Long, the place where the dragon children attended upon their mother was called Bái Tử Long island (Bái: attend upon, Tử: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon children wriggled their tails violently was called Bạch Long Vỹ island (Bạch: white- colour of the foam made when Children Dragon wriggle, Long: dragon, Vỹ: tail).

Now about the trip…

From Hanoi we boarded a van and took a 2 hour drive to Ha Long Bay.  We booked a 2 day trip on a Junk boat and we were so excited to explore Ha Long Bay.   We booked a short trip because we were still holding out hope that we would be able to spend a few days in Sa Pa (in the North Vietnamese Highlands) but the flooding up north was so bad while we were there that many roads were washed out and travel to where we wanted to go was impossible.  We were SO disappointed, but our trip to Ha Long made up for that.

During this time, the floods in northern Vietnam had passed and the Ha Long area was undergoing a heat wave, actually making it hotter up north than it had been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  The temperature was nearing 100 degrees F and the humidity was completely insane… I don’t know if there are any words I can think of to describe the heat-humidity combination (and I was born and raised in the southeastern US).  When the Vietnamese crew on the boat said that it is “unbearable” and “uncomfortable,” then you know it’s bad.  It was 🙂  I’ve never seen a baby sweat like my little River monster.  Speaking of the crew, they were awesome, if at times a bit eccentric (hey, aren’t we all at times?) .  They really made sure we had an enjoyable time.  Our tour guide loved having River around and he would often hold him and entertain him while we ate.  His name was Son and he was named after the Son River. He was really tickled that we were going to give our son the name River and said that they must be kindred spirits.  He was so awesome!

Now back to other odds and ends…oh yeah..the food was actually very cool.  We had only the “local fare” aboard the boat, that meant seafood pulled fresh from the water.  We didn’t really understand what each item was, but it was really good.  There was the obvious different types of fish, but beyond that I can’t really tell you what we ate. The only strange part is that they served french fries with every meal.  Um, maybe that was for us, you know, to make us feel at home, lol?!  All I can say is that if you’re going to take a cruise on Ha Long, be ready for anything. OK, let’s get back on track…

The van ride to the bay had no air conditioning and to our somewhat surprise, there was no AC on the boat as well.  It made for a very interesting weekend.  I actually didn’t mind the heat as bad as I minded the worry about whether or not River was staying hydrated.  That was my constant thought on this trip–keeping everyone hydrated.  I have never, ever drank so much water in my life!  And we’re here today to tell you that yes, we did indeed stay hydrated enough to survive.  When we first boarded the boat, we just wanted to get some water and cool off.  But that was not to be.  We were served warm orange soda in tiny cups.  No kidding.  It was the last thing I expected but I was soon to learn that this was going to be the only drink option for the trip.  Very interesting 🙂  In all fairness, it only added to the character of our trip.   Wait until you hear about what went down at nightime on the boat.

Here is the first photo I took when we boarded the boat:


And now for the scenery–the most breathtaking sights I have ever laid eyes on:



When the Junk Boats would dock, they just kind of huddled into a mass and you had to literally climb over numerous boats to make it to shore.  So much fun while hauling a baby, lol!:






The view from our cabin door…although it’s important to note that there was no sleeping going on in this cabin. The crew stayed up all night on top of the boat singing karaoke…and not just any karaoke but bad 80’s/country karaoke.  And it was LOUD.  So loud that you couldn’t hear yourself think.  We couldn’t help but laugh hysterically all night long while we laid in our tiny “beds” drenched in sweat.  It seemed so fitting somehow:


The picture below has a funny story to go along with it.  The boat you see is no ordinary boat.  That, my friends, is a convenience store.  Loaded on that boat are all the American amenities you could want, even items we couldn’t find in the cities.  You threw your money overboard to the lady paddling the boat, and in return she tossed up you favorite snack.  Mmmm.  I really, really enjoyed my oreos on this trip:


A little fishing village on the water:


Now for the fun stuff.  Despite the tortuous heat and no hope of relief back on the boat, we did manage to hike on some of the islands and even explored a very neat cave:


Luckily for us it was a full moon:


We hiked to a pagoda on top of an island and saw some spectacular views once we wiped away the sweat (yeah, I know but it was really THAT hot, but this nice view gave rise to some of the spectacular photos above):


Hiking back down, the foliage was lush and beautiful:


On the beach under the pagoda…I even managed to gather up  some shells and sand to make a memory box for River.  Go mama!  This was the first time his feet had ever touched the ocean and this case, it was the South China Sea:


Back on the boat:



So my advice to anyone who plans on traveling to Vietnam, get yourself on a boat in Ha Long Bay.  The sights are spectacular, the folks are friendly, and well, you are guaranteed to have an exciting and interesting time.  Go with no expectations and keep an open mind. And if you’re going during the summer, make sure you stay hydrated, lol!

When we left Vietnam, we didn’t just leave a beautiful place behind. We didn’t just leave a place filled with wonderful and friendly people.  We didn’t just leave our son’s birthland behind.  We left behind pieces of our heart.  How is it possible to fall in love with a place we only briefly explored?  I don’t know, but I’m so glad we get to spend the rest of our lives journeying back to this wonderful place.

3 things that my *almost 2 year old* son taught me about camping…oh, and a bit about the Ocoee and Hiawassee Rivers and the Cherokee National Forest

This Memorial Day Weekend we spent time at the Ocoee & Hiawassee Rivers and the Cherokee National Forest.  This weekend was also River’s first camping trip.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least 🙂  More on that towards the end of the post…

Hiking Daddy playing on the Ocoee River:






The campsite:



The Smores:




Helping Daddy:


Watching Daddy play:



Trying to be like Daddy:



The three of us took an excursion on the Hiawassee River:




Ooh, class 2 rapids!


Well, Little Man loved the “gentle” thrills offered by the Hiawassee.  This child loves the water and he loved getting to ride in a boat.  He did awesome!

If you’re looking for a relaxing rafting/kayaking trip with class 1 and 2 rapids, I would highly recommend the Hiawassee River.  You can even intertube down it :). If you would like to step it up a notch and get your adrenaline pumping a bit more, head on over to the Ocoee River where you will find some class 3 and 4 rapids.  These two rivers are about a 30 minute drive apart from each other. Neither of these spots are too challenging for Hiking Daddy, but they are just fine for me and the little River monster.  The Hiawassee is very kid-friendly while the Ocoee is better suited for older kids and adults and age limits are imposed (in terms of rafting and kayking).  The surrounding forest is the Cherokee National Forest and is breathtakingly beautiful.  Many great hiking and camping spots abound in this region.  So, go on and take a trip down the river, you won’t regret it!

Now, onto the title of the post.  I recieved some education this weekend from my close-enough-to-two-to-make-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out son.  I love my son so very much and he is an awesome kiddo, but let’s just say that he made our trip very interesting this weekend.  Here is what I learned.

1.  If a tent filled with pillows and sleeping bags looks like an inflatable playhouse (like pump-it-up), feels like an inflatable playhouse, and well, is an inflatable playhouse…do not expect your child to stop playing and to go to sleep.  Even if it’s 2 am and you’re exhausted and all you want to do is curl into the fetal position and cry, do not expect you child to go to sleep.  Instead, pack up camp and head to the nearest motel.  Just do it.  4 hours of sleep is better than no sleep at all.

2. For the love of all that is holy, do not take said child to a dining establishment for breakfast the next morning in a place where there are no highchairs or any other ways to restrain a child.  Seriously.  Don’t do it.  You will be very sorry.

3.  Smores are good.  In fact, they are so good that they may be substituted for a healthy dinner at which point Mommy  may then wave her very worn out white flag to signify her final surrender.

With all that being said, we did have a fantastic time and I’m so happy we took this trip.  Little Man had a blast and despite all the challenging moments, it was so much fun.  My son rocks.  He is such a trooper and is willing to try anything his crazy parents drag him to do.  Hope everyone else had a great Memorial Day weekend!

Next weekend we’ll be hiking on the Cumberland Plateau again, so stay tuned for some great trail shots!


It’s in the bag…the Nalgene sippy cup

Occasionally I’m going to post about items I like, specifically the items we use on hiking trips and other outdoor excursions.  I’m kind of a no-frills girl when it comes to gear, but there are some things that we could definitely not live without.  For instance…


I love this Nalgene sippy big boy cup.  I guess I should say that The River Monster loves it.  It’s BPA free, spill-proof  and has a handy-dandy feature that makes it easy to clip onto your gear.  And hey, it looks cool.  That has to count for something.  Our little adventurer can’t be trekking around in the wilderness with a Sponge B*b cup, now can he?

So here’s my question, do guys have any kid-oriented outdoor gear that you can’t live without?  If so, I want to hear about it. I have many other items to talk about, but I’ll save it for another day.

Favorite Photo(s) Friday


{beautiful waterfall}


{bottom of the waterfall}

These photos were taken in the summer of 2008 near Pocket Creek, TN shortly after we purchased our most recent camera. They are my absolute favorite waterfall pics of all time!


This weekend we are taking River on his very first camping trip.  We will be watching daddy kayak and we’ll even be doing some whitewater action of our own (mama and the River monster, that is)  :).  The tent and sleeping bags are packed, the kayak is loaded and the backpack is all ready.  Pictures to come soon…

Why being outdoors is good for your soul…and your heart






On any given morning you will find me and the River monster exploring the park near our house.  This particular park is home to a playground, pond and a hiking trail that meanders along a creek, which happens to always be populated with canoes.  As much as River loves to swing we hardly spend any time at the playground itself.  Now don’t get me wrong, playgrounds are awesome, but there’s something magical about a place where a 20 month old explorer can wander around and discover nature on his own. Actually, it’s pretty awesome for me too. My little budding scientist can dig in the mud, catch bugs, feed the ducks and turtles, splash in the water and hike along the creek without being restrained in the hiking backpack.  Just watching him explore on his own makes me feel like a young child again.  Children need to make mud pies and get dirty from head to toe.  They need to be able to feel the freedom that comes with outdoor exploration, but you guys already know that. So why am I telling you all of this?

I have discovered over the course of the last 9 months (the time River has been with us) that perhaps our best “bonding” time has been during these morning explorations.  There are no restrictions and no time limits, no rules, no piles of laundry that need to be done or annoying phones ringing in the background.  There are no T.V.’s and my cell phone does not get service in this particular area.  There are no distractions.  Just me and my baby enjoying what nature has to offer.  These moments are the only time I get what I call the “special smile.”  It’s kind of like an all knowing grin that you flash to your best friend during a moment that’s too special to fill with words…a moment that you know would not be nearly as grand had the other person not been there to share it with you.  Each time we venture out into that wilderness we call the park, I feel our bond grow deeper and stronger.  There is no dvd or toy that lights up River’s face like a trip to the park or a hike through the woods.  The look on his face is priceless and reassures me that being an outdoor parent is the best thing I can be. In fact, it sometimes is the only place where I feel like I’m actually in tune with my son and that I’ve got this mothering thing figured out.  Well, sort of anyways 🙂

Now I’ve got to go awaken the little one from his way-too-long nap.  Exploring is hard work, you know!

Catching up Wednesday: Tumbling Rock Cave, AL

I thought I would make a goal of uploading one “old trip” every Wednesday.  I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

These pictures are from one of my favorite caves, Tumbling Rock Cave in Alabama, circa summer 2006.


{admiring the waterfall formation}


{Christmas tree formation…and yep, we used this on our Christmas cards that year, lol}


{up, up…}


{…and away}

This is a fun cave to explore and I can’t wait until the little River monster is old enough to go.

3 trails in one day…

and this was bound to happen:


Today we explored several different areas of the South Cumberland Recreation Area, which is part of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.  We’ve been hiking here for years, but today we actually took pictures :).  We visited Suter Falls, Grundy Forest, and the natural bridge at Sewanee…all very easy, short hikes.

Suter Falls:

Suter Falls is my absolute favorite waterfall in all of Tennessee.  The hike is ridiculously easy and short, but it’s still my favorite spot.  I highly recommend it to anyone in the area, but try to visit after a good rain.  Usually, the water flow is better during the winter when it is generally wetter around here, but this year we were fortunate to have a wet spring. I think this is the first time we’ve made this trip in the spring and it was awesome!






Grundy Forest:

The Grundy Forest day loop trail is another very easy hike that takes you into the Gizzard Cove.  The trail is beautiful and follows Fiery Gizzard creek.  This is a very kid-friendly hike that is convenient to get to and easy to hike.  Beautiful cascades and waterfalls are abundant and the foliage is usually pretty lush.  The shade provided by the trail makes it a good pick for a mid-summer hike.





Sewanee Natural Bridge:

The natural bridge at Sewanee isn’t really a hike, but rather just a great spot to go and see.  If you are in the area, it’s definitely something quick and easy to visit.



Wow, what a great day of hiking here in TN.  I’m so happy it’s been a wet and stormy spring because it makes for some amazing water falls and lush foliage.  We haven’t had a wet spring in years so I’m a bit giddy.  I wonder where we’ll end up next weekend…