Pleasantly Surprised

My parents came for a visit not long after we arrived in North Dakota. We spent a few wonderful days exploring the area and I found that it is really much different than I had originally imagined. There is much more texture to the landscape than I expected, and the river valley is quite beautiful. Yes, it is relatively flat, and no, there are not many trees, and yes, there are oil fields dotting the landscape, but there is so much more than that. I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the area is, and there is still so much more to see. I had forgotten just how big the sky is in this part of the country, but perhaps most of all, I am simply loving being back in an area with wide open spaces.

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Khalil Gibran

Pea Island NWR

While I was down in Florida, the kids were volunteering at the wildlife refuge with Rob. We took a drive out there today and they were very excited to show me around. After touring the visitor center and looking through the spotting scopes, we took a walk down the nature trail. We saw turtles in Turtle Pond and dozens and dozens of ducks, geese, swans and pelicans out on the lake. Mostly, though, we ran around like loons, played with shadows and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon outside.

I love how peaceful life is here. There are no big cities, very little traffic and it seems that no matter where you go, you can always hear the waves crashing upon the shore.

Settling In

We made it! Saturday afternoon we pulled into Reading, Pennsylvania, about 11 miles from where Rob will be working. We spent the weekend exploring the area a little bit and becoming familiar with our surroundings. Rob was to begin work on Tuesday, so we had some time to spare.

We were told that there was an RV pad where Rob will be working, but we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to use it or not. We were given the go-ahead yesterday when Rob talked to his new supervisor. This was a huge relief since the nearest (affordable) campground we could find was almost 20 miles away, making for a 40 mile daily commute, and in our dear old van, that was not something we really wanted to have to do. The RV pad here had not been used in a couple of years so it was in need of a little love when we pulled up yesterday.

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We spent some time scraping moss and weeds and before too long, it was looking like a mighty nice place to call home. We still need to run a hose for water, but other than that, we have utilities and are quite cozy. We are the only ones here, so after the park closes, it gets very quiet. And dark.

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Rob began his new job today. He simply rode his bike down the hill and he was there, and he was even able to come home for lunch, which was great. This Historical Site is bordered by a State Park, so there are a lot of trails for hiking and a playground and even a swimming pool all within a few miles from here. And the area is dog-friendly, which makes Charlie extra happy. 🙂

Mission Accomplished

Truly it may be said that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a man.  ~George Wherry, Alpine Notes and the Climbing Foot, 1896

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We set out today to complete our Hiking in the Smokies challenge. The goal for families is 50 miles, and we began the day with 47.4. We hiked the Gatlinburg trail today, one of the two trails in the park that allows dogs. The trail connects the town of Gatlinburg with the Sugarlands Visitor Center, and is 3.8 miles round trip. Upon completion, our grand total was 51. 2 miles.

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We have enjoyed so many wonderful adventures while out on the trails. The Smoky Mountains have so much to offer, and we are glad we had the opportunity to spend so much time surrounded by their beauty. We crossed rivers and creeks, found frogs, birds and countless bugs, scaled a lookout tower (well, the brave ones did…), admired wildflowers, looked for bears, watched the trees bud, raced down trails, laughed, and spent some quality time together. In the end, we finally did see our bear, and we witnessed an amazing transformation as the Great Smoky Mountains came to life after a long winter’s rest.

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Spending so much time out in the woods and on the trails has been good for all of us. The kids have learned so much about bugs and little critters and nature in general, not to mention they have become excellent spotters and are able to see things that Rob and I would walk right by. We have all learned the names of some trees and flowers that were previously unknown to us.

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Hiking is something we will enjoy for years to come, but since we are scheduled to leave Tennessee soon, it may be a while until we return to hike more in the Smokies. For now, though, it feels good to have completed something we set out to do. We were determined to reach 50 miles here in the park, and while we did repeat a couple of the trails, every mile was unique and thoroughly enjoyed. I’d say that’s a mission accomplished.

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Mouse Creek Falls

In honor of the “unofficial” kick-off of summer, we decided to head out on a hike. Just over the North Carolina border is a little trail that leads to a popular swimming spot called Midnite Hole. The last time we took the trail, it was way too cold to play in the water, so we thought we would try it again. William and Rob took their time on the trail, identifying trees and flowers as they went, while the twins and I ventured ahead in search of millipedes and centipedes and snails.

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The forests around here are very thick, and it seems as if you can always hear things slithering along in the grass and leaves. I myself am not a big fan of things that slither or leave slimy trails in their wake, but they are excellent nature lessons for the kids so I try not to squeal anymore than absolutely necessary.

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About a mile and a half up the trail we came to the swimming hole. People actually dive and do flips off of the rocks into the beautiful pool below. Luckily, the kids were content to swim around while trying to catch fish. They had to swim in their clothes so they were a little cold when we continued on down the trail, but Mouse Creek Falls was only another half mile away.

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Mouse Creek Falls is a nice little spot where Mouse Creek dumps into Big Creek. We lingered for a little while, admiring the water and all the little rock towers that someone had built, and then we headed back to the car. The kids wanted to run back, so Rob made the announcement that the last one back was a rotten egg, and the race was on. It was only two miles back to the car, and somehow we all made it back in one piece. William came in first, of course, followed by the twins. Rob and I don’t bounce as well as we used to so we were a little more cautious on the way down. I did touch the van about 4 seconds before Rob, though, so I guess he was the rotten egg. 🙂

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