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Author Archive for Taylor Lasseigne

A Quick Day in Hot Springs, AR

In July of 2016, the family took a quick day trip through Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. We spent the majority of the day walking down bath house row and popping in to see interiors when possible. Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view.

Hot Springs, AR

Bath House Row on Central Avenue

 

 

More sites in Hot Springs National Park

 

Housed in an old drive through mortuary, theMaxwell Blade’s Odditorium is a collection of the strange, spooky, and grotesque. From dinosaur eggs to a collection of stuffed albino animals, this place was straight up weird, but it was an escape from the summer sun and a fun attraction for the four year old.

 

McConnells Mill State Park

So often, I tend to over-plan a trip. I’ll download and pour over countless maps, line up every possible stop on the way, and research my destination until I’ve taken every element of surprise out of the adventure. Actually, at that point it’s not even an adventure – it’s more like a script. This trip to McConnells Mill State Park was the opposite of that.

The weekend was filled with wonderful moments with good friends in Sewickley, PA. I was in town to celebrate the first communion of my Godchild Harper, but we also enjoyed some youth T-ball and softball games, wonderful meals, good conversations, and a few drinks on the porch in absolutely perfect weather.

Monday, I was left with a free day – the town of Sewickley went back to school and work, and I called up other friends just a few miles up the road in Baden, PA. Katie and Paul cooked me a hearty breakfast and suggested hiking at the McConnells Mill State Park. It was a fantastic suggestion. The images for this slice were all taken with an iPhone 6 and run through the Instagram Sierra filter, with added vignette and tilt-shift.

The loop that I chose started at a covered bridge near the mill, followed Slippery Rock Creek to the next bridge, and then returned to the mill. The whole while, I was surrounded by rushing water, towering rock walls, fly-fishermen, and tons of boulders. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website describes the park, “McConnells Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, encompasses 2,546 acres of the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Created by the draining of glacial lakes thousands of years ago, the gorge has steeps sides and the valley floor is littered with huge boulders and is a national natural landmark. A gristmill built in the 1800s is open for tours. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, year-round.”

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Panther Creek Trail

Panther Creek Trail, leading to Panther Creek Falls, can be found on the extreme east end of the Chattahooche National Forest, just northeast of Clarksville, GA. This account consists of mostly panoramic images from my 7 mile out-and-back scramble and hike along the creek to the falls. Thunderstorms drenched the forest around me for most of the hike/run, but this resulted in a welcome drop in temperature from the unseasonably scorching weather the area had been experiencing. I personally loved this trail. Most of the time you’re hiking in the shade, and the terrain is challenging at times – hands on scrambling up steep tree roots and rock. Rain trickled through the forest canopy above as I hustled up and down the slick track. My trek was approximately 1 hour to the falls and 1.5 hours back. I suggest walking into the creek at the falls, and climbing onto the rushing falls for added adventure.

Shelter from a Thunderstorm on the Panther Creek Trail

Shelter from a Thunderstorm on the Panther Creek Trail

 

Panther Creek Panoramic

Panther Creek Panoramic

Panther Creek

Panther Creek

Panther Creek Panoramic at halfway point crossing

Panther Creek Panoramic at halfway point crossing

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek Falls

Panther Creek and Falls Panoramic

Panther Creek and Falls Panoramic

Cheaha State Park

After a week of intense work training/development in Pensacola, FL, I found that my mind was a bit mushy and needed a day of woodland zen. I hopped in my wagon and drove north, a get-away with absolutely no blueprint. It wasn’t until I was on the interstate that I started talking to Siri, asking for hiking and camping suggestions, then distances and difficulty. The Alabama high point – of course! I made a camping reservation and committed to the Cheaha State Park. With one day to kill, I drove 260 miles north to the Cheaha State Park  in the Talladega National Forest, the home of Alabama’s highest point (2,407 feet). I had two simple goals for my northeastern Alabama excursion – camp overnight and complete a big hike on Saturday before driving 7 hours back home.

I arrived at the ranger station at 11:30 PM, and I was very surprised to see that the office was still staffed. A weary ranger checked me in and delivered his monologue of park/camping info. He had no doubt spoken these words a thousand times on this busy day, the first day of Memorial Day weekend. I thanked him and drove out to my campsite, only to find that it was already taken. Campfire still crackling, I pointed my car beams at the pirate’s tent and spoke aloud, “Uh. Hey. This is my campsite.” A male voice from behind the nylon wall replied, “Hey man, the ranger told us to take this one since ours got stolen.” I shook my head, and a female voice added, “Yea, we had to find an empty one. Maybe you can find one too?” Angered at the prospect of sleeping under the stars in my car, I drove around a little more until I found an empty campsite, and I stole that one. Once my tent was set up, I took out my iPhone and identified a few of the stunningly crisp constellations overhead with Sky Guide, an app I had recently purchased. I quickly identified Ursa Major, Lupus, and Draco, and I said out loud to myself, “Bears, wolves, and dragons? What a frightening sky for a camper!” To avoid certain nightmares, I shut down the iPhone  and hit the sack.

In the morning, I briefly studied the park maps and decided to connect a few trails. The result would be an eleven mile stretch from the park’s high point to Lake Chinnabee via the Pinhoti, Nubbin Creek, and Chinnabee Silent trails. Upon completion, I would be marooned on the west side of the park, and my only option would be to hitch a ride back to the park center. In the end it all worked out. Finding a ride back to my car was easy. Another park visitor stopped to ask me for directions. I helped out as best I could and bummed a ride in return.

Cheaha Wilderness Trailhead

Cheaha Wilderness Trailhead

Cheaha Wilderness Trailhead

Cheaha Wilderness Trailhead

Cheaha Wilderness Trailhead

Cheaha Wilderness Trailhead

Pinhote Trail

Pinhote Trail

McDill Point

McDill Point

Crossing

Crossing

Crossing at small falls

Crossing at small falls

Camper Shelter on the Chinnabee Silent Trail

Camper Shelter on the Chinnabee Silent Trail

Flowers

Flowers

Chinnabee Silent Trail

Chinnabee Silent Trail

Crossing

Crossing

Crossing at another set of falls

Crossing at another set of falls

 

Popular cliff diving spot - Chinnabee

Popular cliff diving spot – Chinnabee

Lake Chinnabee

Lake Chinnabee

Cheaha State Park Restaurant

Cheaha State Park Restaurant

Cheaha State Park Restaurant

Cheaha State Park Restaurant

Bunker Observation Tower, Alabama High Point (2,407 ft.)

Bunker Observation Tower, Alabama High Point (2,407 ft.)

Bunker Observation Tower, Alabama High Point (2,407 ft.)

Bunker Observation Tower, Alabama High Point (2,407 ft.)

Bunker Observation Tower, statue

Bunker Observation Tower, statue

The Wave Organ

If you find yourself on the north end of town in San Francisco, follow the coast east from the Golden Gate Bridge, just passed Presidio Beach, and you will come to a small spit of land that juts out into the bay. Follow the stone-lined road passed St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Club, and you will find yourself surrounded by water and stone ruins. You have located San Francisco’s Wave Organ – defined on the Exploratorium website as, “a wave-activated acoustic sculpture.”

The piece was conceived by Peter Richards and installed with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzalez. There was first a prototype assemble for the 1981 New Music Festival. The prototype generated a buzz, making it possible to install the piece we see today. Work began in September of 1985 and concluded in May of 1986. Construction materials include recycled cemetery stone, old city curbs, poured concrete, and 25 Dr. Seuss-like “organ pipes” made from PVC.

Personally, I enjoyed the challenge in finding The Wave Organ, and once we were there, I appreciated how the instrument forced me to slow down, adjust my senses, and be in the moment. Click on the link below to hear The Wave Organ in action as you browse the photographs.

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Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Bridge

On the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge lies the other half of Golden Gate National Recreational Area and the Marin Headlands – a lush rolling landscape that dips down to the water for some fantastic views of the bay area. With only a few hours left in our day, we saw what we could. We barely made it to the visitors center for a map before they closed. From there, we took a short hike around Rodeo Lagoon to Rodeo Beach with spectacular up-close views of the Pacific Ocean. After a little time dodging waves, we climbed back up the hills to the ruins of Battery Spencer for a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge – just in time for sunset.

Rodeo Cove Hike

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Golden Gate Bridge

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Battery Spencer Ruins

A sign on the site reads, “For over half a century, this was one of the most strategically important sites guarding the Golden Gate. Completed in 1897, the battery was named for Joseph Spencer, who had been a major general in the army during the American Revolution. It was armed with 3 rifled guns having 12″ diameter barrels. The fortification saw continuous service until 1943, when it was declared obsolete and its guns scrapped.”

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Muir Woods National Monument

If you’re visiting the San Francisco Bay Area for any amount of days, I would say that Muir Woods National Monument belongs on your list of must-see locations. We rented a car to get there, but the park is just a hop and a skip over the Golden Gate Bridge – 16 miles from downtown San Francisco. Muir Woods would make a fun, but tough, cycling destination from the city. The main draw to Muir is its 240 acres of old growth Coast Redwood trees. They’re just massive and beautiful, dwarfing everything in sight. We could have spent an entire day at Muir, but we wanted to save several hours for the Marin Headlands. Luckily, our visit happened to correspond with the beginning of a ranger tour. The best introduction to any national park is a great ranger-led hike.

Beginning of our Muir walk

Beginning of our Muir walk

These trees have seen it all!

These trees have seen it all!

Just a little farther than most tourists venture.

Just a little farther than most tourists venture.

From below

From below

Walking amongst the giants

Walking amongst the giants

Pit stop for some history

Pit stop for some history

A cut path

A cut path

Angela and I

Angela and I

Ferns

Ferns

We were not lost

We were not lost

This guy was so excited to be there.

This guy was so excited to be there.

John Muir carved out of wood

John Muir carved out of wood

Haight-Ashbuy / San Francisco

When the 1967 flower-power anthem San Francisco said, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, it was talking about the Haight-Ashbury District and the 100,000 or so “hippies” that would soon descend upon its streets. Here are thirteen images from a few hours in the Haight-Ashbury District and the east end of nearby Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.

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Japantown / San Francisco

A stroll through Japantown, or Nihonmachi, in San Francisco, CA. Everything photographed below exists in or near to the area known as Japan Center in the Western Addition District of San Francisco. Quick history: in the 1870s, folks from San Fran started to move into the area. Then, the area was mostly unharmed by the earthquake and subsequent fire in 1906, so even more folks (especially Japanese) ended up there. Land was scarce. Businesses needed space, so owners started to raise property to house commercial space under their living quarters. This was the beginning of Japantown. From the website sfjapantown.org, “Today, nearly 12,000 Japanese Americans live in San Francisco and approximately 80,000 live in the greater Bay Area.” On this half-day tour, join us as we discover some of Japantown’s brilliant foods, toys, paper foldings, fascinating grocery signs, a wooden Vader helmet, and much more. 

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The Mission / San Francisco

On our 10 year anniversary trip to San Francisco, there was one area that had us coming back again and again. The Mission District, also known as “The Mission”, is chock full of delicious cheap eats, truly quirky shops, and historical sites. If you’re out there, take the time to visit Mission Dolores – founded in 1776, then called Mission San Francisco de Asís, it still stands today as the oldest intact building in San Francisco.

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores interior

Mission Dolores interior

Mission Dolores ceiling

Mission Dolores ceiling

Mission Dolores altar

Mission Dolores altar

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores cemetary

Mission Dolores cemetery

Burritos, Pie and More

Fishing for suggestions before leaving for San Francisco, everyone I asked said, “You HAVE to have a mission burrito”, always suggested as if there was no other option – and there really isn’t. Finding a mission burrito is easy, but deciding which one to eat is a much tougher decision. If you’re heading to The Mission to see the sites and experience the burritos, we can definitely suggest La Taqueria at 2889 Mission St., where the wait to get a burrito is directly proportional to its actual weight – they’re huge and delicious. We had another tasty mission burrito at Taqueria Cancun – 2288 Mission St. They offer a great burrito for $4.99, but why not upsize to the “Burrito Mojado (Big One)” for $5.99 for your choice of meat, rice, beans, onions, cilantro, salsa, topped with enchilada sauce, green salsa, melted cheese, sour cream, and mexican salsa. Boom!

Taqueria Cancun for our first "mission burrito"

Taqueria Cancun for our first “mission burrito”

Taqueria Cancun "mission burrito"

Taqueria Cancun “mission burrito”

Fantastic PIE!!

Fantastic PIE!!

Fantastic PIE!!

Fantastic PIE!!

another very popular

another very popular “mission burrito” joint

another very popular

another very popular “mission burrito” joint

another very popular

another very popular “mission burrito” joint

Cellar Maker Brewing Co.

Cellar Maker Brewing Co.

Having a flight at Cellar Maker Brewing Co. - best beer we had all week was the Mo' Motueka IPA.

Having a flight at Cellar Maker Brewing Co. – best beer we had all week was the Mo’ Motueka IPA.

Korean Fried Chicken

Korean Fried Chicken

guy in the blue shirt left this sign

guy in the blue shirt left this sign

art

art

crazy audiophile stuff

crazy audiophile stuff

crazy audiophile stuff

crazy audiophile stuff

shopping

shopping

We Be Sushi ?

We Be Sushi ?

Took this on the night of game 1 - 2014 World Series. Giants beat the Royals by six that night and would take the series in 7 games.

Took this on the night of game 1 – 2014 World Series. Giants beat the Royals by six that night and would take the series in 7 games.

color pops in The Mission

color pops in The Mission

 

Clarion Alley Mural Project

Clarion Alley Mural Project is a long continuous stretch of street art in The Mission bounded by 17th, Sycamore,  Mission, and Valencia streets. Many of the pieces are in progress, and I get the feeling that this public gallery is constantly in flux. We walked the length and shot some of the best murals.

Andy Goldsworthy at The Presidio / San Francisco

In October of 2014, Angela and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the next 10 weeks, I will present this trip in 10 separate installments, or slices. First up, The Presidio.

The Presidio of San Francisco was first established as a Spanish garrison in 1776. Now the 1,500 acre park is a National Historic Landmark, famous for its hikes, views, and history. We visited the park to view art on display by Andy Goldsworthy.

The Presidio

The Presidio

Taylor and Angela and the Bay

Taylor and Angela and the Bay

View from The Presidio

View from The Presidio

Spire (2008) by Andy Goldsworthy

Spire (2008) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Earth Wall (2014) by Andy Goldsworthy

Earth Wall (2014) by Andy Goldsworthy

For more on Andy Goldsworthy’s work in The Presidio, check out the video below.

Inexplicable Goats

Inexplicable Goats

Sutro Bath Ruins / San Francisco

To reach Land’s End in San Francisco, travel west on Geary Blvd until it meets the Great Highway. The sky opens up and the land lives up to its name – it ends. Here, the Pacific Ocean pummels what is left of the Sutro Bath ruins.

The Sutro Baths were developed by self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro in 1894. He made his fortune in Nevada’s Comstock silver mine, and applied those riches to his dreams of a better San Francisco. First he constructed an ocean pool aquarium, then expanded with a three acre public bathhouse. Sutro tried everything to lure patrons down to the coast: May Day festivals, high dive contests, swimming contests, orchestral performances, dancers, choirs, magicians, tightrope walkers, animal acts, and even a suspension bridge that stretched from the Cliff House to Seal Rocks off the coast.

Even with all that effort, the baths were only somewhat popular in Sutro’s day. Sutro died in 1898, and his family maintained the land for some time. In 1964, speculators planned to demolish the structures and replace them with apartment buildings, but a massive fire in 1966 ended those intentions. The ruins finally became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area in 1973.

Sutro Baths

 

Sutrobaths

Sutro Baths By Philbertgray at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

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The Maze on the Land’s End Trail with Golden Gate BridgeSF_SUTRO_web18SF_SUTRO_web19SF_SUTRO_web20SF_SUTRO_web21SF_SUTRO_web22

 

The Cliff House and Seal RocksSF_SUTRO_web23SF_SUTRO_web24SF_SUTRO_web25SF_SUTRO_web26

#007: Horseback Riding in Galveston, TX

Play
Riding Rambo in Galveston

Riding Rambo in Galveston, TX

Galveston, TX / June 2, 2014

Taylor speaks with Terri and Charles of S-n-G Horseback Riding in their small generator-powered travel trailer / office. They discuss how they got started, how they find their horses, the back-stories of many of the horses, and lots of other horse-related stuff.

Kayaking Down Bayou Lafourche

Day 1 – Donaldsonville to Napoleonville – 4/9/14

This is my second attempt at paddling the 106-mile Bayou Lafourche from source to mouth. My first attempt, back in July of 2010, ended at mile 75 in heat stroke and exhaustion. That would not happen again, and I made sure of it by taking specific precautions. In 2010 I planned for six days of paddling, but on this trip I would allow for eight days. This made for shorter paddles and more time for breaks each day. Secondly, a week  before starting the trip, I drove the length of the bayou and knocked on a few doors, pitching my trip in hopes of lining up a few more places to camp. I found nice folks in Napoleonville and Raceland that didn’t mind a stranger camping on their bayou-side property. Most importantly, I paddled in April as opposed to late July – the dead of summer. On average in south Louisiana, April weather is typically twenty degrees cooler and half as rainy – perfect!

Headwaters in Donaldsonville

Water pumping underground, from the Mississippi River into Bayou Lafourche.

On the first day, Angela dropped me off on a long sloping bank in Donaldsonville. It would be a late start, but that didn’t matter. With only 14.5 miles to paddle on the day, I had plenty of time for dilly-dallying. Angela helps me unpack the car and strategically repack the boat’s hatches with several days worth of food and gear. The slope is not very far from the source where a relatively new pumping structure diverts Mississippi River water into Bayou Lafourche at up to 1,000 cubic feet per second. I can feel the current here in Donaldsonville, yet I know that this helpful push will not last the length of the bayou. I take advantage of the current and drift away from the bank, steering more than paddling at first.  As I wind through Donaldsonville, my boat is escorted by Black-bellied Whistling ducks later followed by Mallards. Passing through Belle Rose, the duck population dwindled but was supplemented by Great Egrets and lots of  turtles.

At the headwaters in Donaldsonville

At the headwaters in Donaldsonville

I make my way past uncountable logs that look like alligators, and I know that at some point on this trip, one of these logs will be an alligator. This one annoying sticky thought won’t leave me, and I am basically left with a fear of logs. I deal with it and paddle on.

On the north end of Paincourtville, I pull up onto a steep bank by a bridge where a fisherman named Jerald helped me out of my boat. I stretched my legs as Jerald cast his line into the middle of the bayou. Something immediately tugged at his line and he reeled in to reveal his catch – an eel! I thought he would throw it back into the water, but he kept the creature. We got to talking -Jerald mostly. He told me about how he likes to come out every day and fish for bass.

“I like to fish because it gets me out of the house,” he said. “Otherwise, I’m sitting inside all day. It passes the time.”

Jerald also mentioned that he’s noticed an increasingly strong flow of water in the bayou over the years. Of course he’s right about that. The Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District aims to divert 1,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Mississippi into Bayou Lafourche. Several stages of the plan are already completed: new pumps at the headwaters and dredging of the bayou. Other steps are yet to be completed like replacing the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge, creating new control structures, and removing the weir in Thibodeaux.

I mentioned toJerald that I was working up an appetite. He recommended that I check out the Shell gas station in Paincourtville. “They have a little kitchen and make some real good seafood dishes there.” That’s all I needed to know.

Just as I was shoving off again Jerald called out, “Have you seen any gators yet?”

“No”, I replied. “You see any?”

“Oh yea. They’re all over the bayou. Be careful, I saw a big one right here just yesterday.”

The gator report did not help my newfound irrational fear of logs. A little further down the bayou, rushing past one thing or another, I must have missed the Shell station. Lunch would have to come from another source. Right as I realized that I had missed my stop, a large gator launched itself off the bank and swam right under my boat – at least half the size of the kayak so about eight feet. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” was the lie that I repeated over and over to myself until I felt safe again.

Jerald with Eel in Paincourtville

Jerald with Eel in Paincourtville, LA

near Napoleonville

I arrived at Napoleonville at about 4pm only to realize that the bank on where I was supposed to land was too steep. I ended up docking on the opposite bank, attaching the wheel kit, and carrying my rig across a nearby bridge. I’m lucky that was even an option. Had that bridge not been there, I would have been forced to leave my boat in the water and scramble up the bayou-side with all my gear.

My stopover in Napoleonville was a product of those door to door visits from the week prior. In those kayaking cold calls, I was fortunate to knock on the door of Regina Smith. She and her family were inviting and friendly. When I arrived, Regina and her daughter were washing their car in the driveway. Regina’s husband was still at work. They took me in and showed me the area behind the driveway reserved for my tent. I began to unpack. Upon digging into my boat for the first time that day, I realized that the back hatch was flooded! Crackers, sleeping bag, tent, and hoodie were completely drenched. I figured out later that the flooding probably happened while pulling my boat up a steep bank. The steep incline sent water rushing to the back of the boat where my ancient, poorly caulked bulkheads, allowed water to pass right through. I spent at least an hour wringing out and hanging up items to dry.  Then, starving and craving calories of any kind, I caught wind of a burger joint two miles down the road. I walked the two miles to the Dairy Inn in Napoleonville, where I treated myself to a giant burger, french fries, and a beer.

Napoleonville

Landing in Napoleonville

Pit Stop. Napoleonville,LA.Gym. Napoleonville,LA.

Back at Regina’s place, the sun was still up, but I was exhausted . Sunshine or not, it was time for bed. Just as I was drifting off, the sounds of live acoustic guitar crept into my tent followed by singing. There was a concert happening in the backyard! I had to check it out, so I crawled out of my tent and took a peek. Regina’s son and daughter had kicked off a jam session on the back patio, and they were talented. Turns out, the daughter had been part of a team that won a national country music contest. She had a great voice, and the brother played a pretty good guitar. It was an amusing end to the day – being serenaded by siblings on Bayou Lafourche playing Oasis, “In a champagne supernova in the sky…”

Campsite. Napoleonville.

Campsite. Napoleonville.

 

Day 2 – Napoleonville to Thibodeaux – 4/10/14

I awoke hungry the next morning and needed some quick sustenance before paddling off. The Pop-n-Go convenient store across the bayou had mediocre biscuits and coffee, but they were calories nonetheless. “Breakfast” was followed by a stroll around town as I photographed the ramshackle, crumbling buildings of Napoleonville. After the photography stroll, I packed up the kayak, attached the wheel kit, and pulled everything back across the bridge where I shoved off for Thibodeaux.

Heading south from NapoleonvilleBetween Napoleonville and Labadieville.

I knocked out a bunch of miles right away, mostly due to the fact that I couldn’t find a place to stop. I just kept going, almost nine miles straight, until finally finding a great spot to get out of the boat – under the bridge in Labadieville. There, I took out all my electronics and threw them in a backpack, secured the rest of my stuff under the bridge, and climbed up and over into town where I quickly found Amy and Emily’s Cajun Cafe. There, I had a superb dinner of crab and shrimp gumbo with onion rings – one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a trip like this.

Twin city signLabadieville.Dansereau. Labadieville.Wendy's Hair Styling. Labadieville.Bayouside work near Thibodeaux.

Reenergized, I paddled on and arrived in Thibodeaux ahead of schedule. The bank alongside David and Sharon Gauthe’s house was steeper that I’d remembered from my previous trip down the bayou. The water level in the bayou was so low, that I had no choice but to commit to a wet exit. I threw my paddle up on the bank, rolled up my pants, and hopped out into the water.

I first met the Gauthe family back in the mid 90s. Their daughter Miki and I attended different high schools, but we were both very active in our respective school band programs. Our paths crossed at many of the same Lafourche Parish band festivals, contests, and honor bands. Miki and I quickly became friends, our friends circles meshed, and I eventually met her family. Everyone should have the pleasure to know a family like the Gauthes. Miki was always as kind as a person can be. Always smiling and laughing, she could lift anyone’s spirits. Her parents David and Sharon are exactly the same way: bubbly, warm, generous, and absolute salt of the earth through and through.

This stop at the Gauthe’s was scheduled, but I had not expected to see anyone at the house. They were supposed to be out of town. I figured that I would just drag my gear up to the house, camp out for the night, and take off in the morning. To my pleasant surprise, David and Sharon had not yet left for their trip – they were running a little late. I rolled over to the house and Mrs. Sharon popped out of the front door. I smelled like a stagnant bayou, but she invited me in without batting an eye.  Mr. David joined us as we caught up. I rolled my rig behind their house, set up my tent in their giant back yard, and started to hang up clothes and gear to dry. Mr. David came out and we talked for quite a while. He showed me how he repurposed a trampoline into a greenhouse for his vegetables and how the playhouse was actually set up on giant sleds so that he could pull it around with his tractor! A diagonal path cut straight through a massive patch of clovers – a clearing for all the children who would participate in the upcoming easter egg hunt. He told me about how he used to work at an old sugar mill, and he took me into his shed to show me the huge collection of ancient, pre-electricity, sugar mill tools. When we came out the shed, we were greeted by Mrs. Sharon. Very ready to hit the road, it was obvious that she had been looking for us. My tour of the shed was over.

Campsite. Thibodeaux.

Campsite. Thibodeaux.

From tent. Thibodeaux.

 

Day 3 – Thibodeaux to Raceland – 4/11/14

In the morning everything was soaked from the dew. All of the clothes and gear that I had hung up to dry was wetter than before. I also woke up with a very upset stomach – not the kind of ailment you’d like to have when hopping into a kayak for unknown hours. My morning felt wasted, waiting for things to dry and for my stomach to settle. I took this opportunity to charge my batteries, and finally at 9:10AM I felt confident enough to start my paddle.

Moss. Thibodeaux.

I stopped, after only two miles of paddling, at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodeaux – one of six sites that makes up the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. I walked around town a little, probably just stalling for the unavoidable task ahead, getting around or over the weir in Thibodeaux.

20140409dtb_webedit063Break at Jean Lafitte Park. Thibodeaux.Ducks at Jean Lafitte Park. Thibodeaux.Ducks at Jean Lafitte Park. Thibodeaux.

A weir is a man-made blockage of a body of water, typically used to divert or change the flow in some way – think tiny dam. Bayou Lafourche currently has one such weir in Thibodeaux. On my last trip, I laughably pulled out of the bayou, attached the wheel kit, and lugged my 80+ pound rig through the city. By the time I got back to the bayou, I was exhausted. The steep slope back into the water was lined with jagged concrete blocks and oyster shells.  I shredded both my legs and the underside of my kayak on this sawtoothed slope.  My new plan was to pull out earlier, leave the boat in the water, and simply tow it over the weir. That idea fizzled as soon as I pulled up to the barrier. A fence jutting from the bank thwarted my plan (you can see it in the background of the image below). I would have to pull the boat up the bank and around again. This time, once atop the bank, I would only have to drag the boat about 200 feet before lowering it back down into the water. I got as close as I could to the weir and hopped out of my boat as carefully as I could, trying not to disturb a giant mother duck on its nest. I slowly pulled the heavy load up the steep slope, pushed it a few hundred feet along the downtown Thibodeaux sidewalk, and with a rope, slowly lowered it down the jagged concrete and oyster shell strewn slope on the other side of the weir. In 2011, it took me 1 hour and 50 minutes to navigate around the weir. On this trip I hopped around it in a mere 30 minutes.

Queen of the Wier. Thibodeaux.

Wier. Thibodeaux.

Wier. Thibodeaux.

After the weir, there was no place to stop for a while – too long actually. Thick vegetation and no trespassing signs kept me off the bank. Finally, about 4+ miles down the bayou, I spotted a very inviting concrete boat launch. There were no signs to turn me away, so I drifted in to stretch my legs and get a snack. I started to think about it. If I was going to stick around on someone else’s property, it might be a good idea to get permission to be there. On my way up the gravel walkway I noticed a stack of crab traps with a medium sized songbird trapped in one. The property had various animal traps, bails of hay, and lots of farming equipment. As I continued around the structure that I thought was a house, I came to realize that it wasn’t really a house but a large house-like building, probably serving as storage. Now, about 500 feet into the property, I saw something that made my heart sink – a large Bullmastiff. More importantly, it noticed me and it wasn’t tethered to anything! “No sudden movements,” I told myself. My head swiveled as I noticed something in the corner of my eye, a second Bullmastiff! “No sudden movements,” I repeated to myself as I backed away slowly and calmly. I blink and the two dogs simultaneously charge me. (Looking back on this incident with the dogs, I realize it was the only moment of the trip when I completely forgot about alligators.) Before I know what’s happening, both dogs are jumping up alongside me and nipping at my hands and face. I’m astounded by how high they can jump. They’re jumping, nipping, and shoving me around with their weight – I imagine 200+ pounds of dog, all muscle. I’m reminded of Will Farrell and Chris Kattan in that Saturday Night Live A Night at the Roxbury skit? I felt like one of their dance floor victims, only I might lose a finger. The tense walk back to the bayou-side seemed an eternity, but once I got to the concrete slope, the dogs stopped barking and just stared. It was like someone had flipped a switch, and that’s exactly what it was. If you look at the image of my puppy friend below, you can see the radial collar around his neck. As I paddled away, I thought about that poor songbird stuck in the crab trap. Curiosity had doomed us both, but at least I made it out of there.

One of two very angry guard dogs near Thibodeaux.

I made great time between Thibodeaux and Raceland for two reasons: (1) There was yet again no place to get out of the boat for a breather, and (2) I came within paddle’s reach of a 6+ foot alligator – TOO CLOSE! It’s amazing how motivating it is to see a deadly creature in your path. As I made my way south, I passed under the old Lafourche Crossing railroad bridge. The first trolling boats I’d seen on my trip marked my crossing over into Raceland – the place where I was born.

Lafourche Crossing Bridge

Lafourche Crossing Bridge

Robinson Carusoe like waterpark near Raceland

Robinson Carusoe like waterpark near Raceland

Trawl Boat

In Raceland, I had arranged to camp in the yard of the Matherne family – more kind folks who said “yes” when a stranger knocked on their door. Upon arrival, I set up my tent and spoke with Mr. Matherne on his gorgeous bayou-side gazebo. Hungry, I inquired about food. Pickings were slim, and I decided to walk about 3 miles to the po-boy shop. On foot along HWY. 1, something overhead caught my eye. It wasn’t a vulture. Maybe it was a large hawk? I lost it behind some trees and kept walking. About a quarter mile later an eagle swoops down, scoops a fish out of Bayou Lafourche, and climbs up and away over the tree line! This blew my mind. Not only have I never seen an eagle do that, but I’ve never even seen an eagle on the bayou. It was an astonishing moment that I would not soon forget.

Raceland destination for the night.

Raceland destination for the night.

Not long after this spectacle, I found myself walking past a seafood processor. A fisherman, loading crab pots into truck engaged me in a conversation, “Where you going”?
“Po-boy place up the road,” I replied.
“In Raceland?”
“Yep”
He looked back at his pots, “All I can offer you is the back of the truck, but it stinks because of the crab pots. Up to you.”
“No, that’s perfect.” I was excited to cut some time off my walk. “I’ve been paddling all day, so I  must smell bad anyway.”

We zipped there. Every minute of the ride smelled like rotten mud, but I couldn’t stop smiling. The drive took about 40 minutes off my walk. I ordered a catfish po-boy and a coke at the New Orleans Po-Boy Shop which used to be the old Frost Stop. The sandwich was good, and the lonely woman behind the counter was true blue. She hustled just to keep up with the after work / after school rush. I didn’t mind the long walk back to the Matherne’s place. The sun setting over my left shoulder, I thought about how hard I had worked for that catfish today. Then I thought about the eagle catching and eating his fish. Mr. Matherne and I talked some more on his beautiful gazebo overlooking the bayou. It was lined with cypress trees, and hidden amongst the brush all around was a system of pipes that emitted mosquito repellant. It was perfect. He told me about the history of his piece of land and his family. I felt very welcome there. I rested out on the gazebo until dusk and then retired to my tent.

New Orleans Po-Boys was the old Frost Stop in Raceland.

New Orleans Po-Boys was the old Frost Stop in Raceland.

Day 4 – Raceland to Lockport – 4/12/14

Very early the next morning, I found myself walking through the St. Mary’s cemetery. It was perfect cemetery weather – early Saturday, so the town was still asleep. Fog had rolled in overnight, and it was overcast. I read names on the headstones, wondering how many might be of relation to me. I found only 1 that shared my name – Amanda Lasseigne (formerly Naquin) was born in 1860 and died on February 4, 1938. I have been unable to find any additional record of her.

Foggy morning. St. Mary's Nativity Cemetery in Raceland.

Foggy morning. St. Mary’s Nativity Cemetery in Raceland.

At the Matherne's in Raceland. Foggy morning.

I packed up, thanked Mr. Matherne again, and started my short trip to Lockport. Just after the HWY 90 overpass about 4-5 miles down the bayou (see image below) I pulled off onto a smooth, freshly manicured grassy bank. Instantly, a man approaches me on a three-wheeler, sporting a poison spraying apparatus on his back. I am sure I’m about to get run off when he says, “Hey, you’re that guy that’s paddling all the way down to Fourchon right? You stayed at the Matherne’s last night right?” I couldn’t believe it, how did he know that? It turned out he was a cousin of Mr. Matherne and he was getting the property ready for a wedding. We chewed the fat for a moment and he went on to spray the weeds along the bayou. Small world down here.

HWY 90.Mathews, LA water tower.

Back in the boat again, I paddled straight through to Lockport. On the way I saw many more turtles, an 8+ foot gator (they were growing), and an uptick in troll boats.

Turtle sunning. Near Lockport.The

In Lockport, I had arranged to stay with my elementary school librarian (and my mom’s good friend) Mrs. Champagne. In the heart of Lockport, Bayou Lafourche intersects with Old Company Canal, and Mrs. Champagne’s backyard overlooks this canal. As I approached the bank, her neighbor saw me coming and offered his wharf. He was super nice and a big-time fisherman – the kind of guy that pulls in his limit every time he goes out. I am the exact opposite. If you take me fishing, we will catch no fish. Odds are, we will at some point debate whether or not to eat the bait. I visited with Champagne’s neighbor for a while, and he informed me that I was visiting at a great time. Lockport was hosting a Wooden Boat Festival – what a fantastic surprise.

Canal leading to Bayou from Lockport Bridge

Canal leading to Bayou from Lockport Bridge

I cleaned up and walked over to the other side of the canal to the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building. There were several examples of hand made wooden boats (old and new), old engines, live music, boat rides on the old wooden boats with the old engines, a silent auction, men making flies for fly fishing, live duck carving, and good food. Starving from the paddling, I ate for two: crawfish étouffée and a pork grillades po-boy – both delicious. After the festival, I grabbed a snowball from Steph’s Snowballs and walked around Lockport for a change of scenery. I made my way back to Mrs. Champagne’s and set up for the night. That evening, serenaded by frogs and crickets, I slept right on the edge of the canal.

Kerry St. Pé of BTNEP and his hand crafted kayak. Lockport Wood Boat Festival.

Kerry St. Pé of BTNEP and his hand crafted kayak. Lockport Wood Boat Festival.

Lockport Wood Boat FestivalLockport Wood Boat Festival

Decoy Carving. Lockport Wood Boat Festival.

Old Lockport Lock circa 1850.

Old Lockport Lock circa 1850.

Confluence of Bayou Lafourche and Lockport Canal.Steph's Sno Balls. Lockport.

Camp site at Mr. Champagne's in Lockport

Camp site at Mr. Champagne’s in Lockport

Day 5 – Lockport to Cut Off – 4/13/14

I woke early on day five. With 19+ miles to cover before sunset, I had to start early – on the water at 7:10 am. I paddled out of Lockport and stopped at Bollinger Shipyard to snap a few photos of the three coast guard cutters being worked on. Today’s first surprise was HUGE wind in my face all day. It was hard to maintain even 3 mph! White caps rolled and even crashed on the boat. Wind gusts hit my chest pushing me back, nearly knocking the paddle out of my hands. I attempted to judge the swirls and hugged the bank, hoping for the trees and the earthen wall to cut the cross wind. It almost never made a difference.

Coast Guard Cutters at the Bollinger Shipyard.

After three hours and less than seven miles I stopped at the Valentine bridge to rest. With no energy to pull the boat out of the water, I secured it to a large rock and took a seat in the only place I could find shade, the Valentine Baptist Church front porch. I ate, drank, rested, found an old marble (saved it for my son), and talked to a fisherman before getting back on the water – refreshed.

Valentine bridge.

Valentine bridge.

Resting at the Valentine Baptist Church.

I started very slowly after the break. According to my GPS, exactly half a mile south of the Valentine bridge I paused and then tremendously increased my paddling speed for a solid mile. Those strange GPS stats mark the exact spot where I saw the biggest alligator I’ve ever seen in the bayou. I was hugging the LA 1 side, probably about 40 feet from the bank, and I look over and I see a gator head the size of a car engine, jaws open as if about to chomp down on something. It’s back came up out of the water and the tail. The beast was bigger than my 16.5 ft boat! It might as well have been a dinosaur. It was roaring at a duck about 6 feet above it in a tree – a marsh hen. I could clearly hear the guttural roar. I could feel the vibrations on the water, through my boat – it was quite a bellow. I paddled as fast and as hard as I could straight up the bayou, tearing through the stiff wind from the south, digging my paddles deep into the brown water. I made my best time on that leg, but all I could think of was how I would quit this adventure when I reached my parents’ house in Cut Off. I had no idea that I was sharing the water with beasts of this size. The largest gator I’d ever seen in the bayou in all my life was no more than 9 or ten feet long. This thing might have been over 17. And the GIRTH!  If that was in the water then I didn’t need to be.

Two hours later, after skipping almost all rests, I was well into Larose and feeling much better about the gator situation. My wife, driving back from New Orleans, spotted me paddling in the bayou and pulled over to say hello. This was quite a pick-me-up. The whole day I had also planned to make it to Cut Off in time to attend my little cousin’s birthday party. The wind in my face was keeping me off pace, but the gator incident put me right back on track. 20 miles and 8 hours 30 minutes from Lockport, I made it to Cut Off for 3:10 PM just in time to make it to the party.

Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Larose.

Ruth and Mr. Ben in Larose

The Wyoming. Cut Off, LA.

The Wyoming. Cut Off, LA.

Ldy Catherine and Capt. Toby. Cut Off, LA.Capt. Toby. Cut Off, LA.Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Cut Off, LA.My Melanie. Cut Off, LA.Under the Cut Off pontoon bridge.Tug and Large Barge. Cut Off, LA.

Arrival at Cut Off, LA destination.

Ben. One year old. Blowing out his candle.

Ben. One year old. Blowing out his candle.

Day 6 – 0 MILE DAY – 4/14/14

Thankfully, I had a day for buffer in my schedule because day six was postponed due to weather – a zero mile day. Severe storm warnings, wind advisories and flood warnings were in effect. Gusts up to 30 mph, 90% chance of storms, and the final nail in the coffin – the flood locks were closed in Larose and Golden Meadow. I couldn’t paddle south if I wanted to. Not a day for kayaking.

Day 7 – Cut Off to Leeville – 4/15/14

It was so incredibly windy on the morning of day #7 that I waited until 11:30AM to put in! There were reported sustained winds of 18 mph with gusts up to 35 mph! The only reason that I even attempted this paddle was because the winds were at my back, which turned out to be a blessing and a curse. Anytime the direction shifted just a little, waves would hit the back of my boat and turn me in the opposite direction. I did finally get in the water, broke my wheel kit trying to get to the launch in the morning though. I would not be able to wheel the kayak anywhere in a pinch – it was water only from here on out. I pushed off the bank and immediately, my body was a sail. I was flying down the bayou. Just two days before, I had a strong headwind and had trouble maintaining 3mph. Today I was cruising at 5mph, a light push with the paddle gave me 5.5 – 6 mph, twice as fast as the two previous days!

After only an hour of mostly steering as the wind pushed, I arrived at my grandparents house in Galliano. I put the boat up on rocks by the old net shop where my grandpa worked all his life, and walked up the street to their house. There, grandpa (Poppie) and I had some of my grandma’s potato, ham hock, and yam stew. It was GREAT – simple but delicious. My grandma was going to the dentist, so I missed visiting with her. Poppie was not happy because she was traveling alone. In a rare moment of openness, he mentioned to me that he worries about her when she drives by herself. It was very sweet. I sat there and ate my soup as Poppie grilled me about the trip, “Where did you start? Where are you sleeping? Why you want to do this again?”

Flood Gates in lower Golden Meadow, LA.

Flood Gates in lower Golden Meadow, LA.

I made great time through Galliano and Golden Meadow. The waterway widened significantly in south Golden Meadow and continued to widen for the remainder of the trip. As it widened, the waves got bigger, making steering very hard. I tweaked my back from all of the constant overcompensating for cross-winds. Just after the lock in Golden Meadow, I pulled onto shore to get photos of the old dead oaks in the marsh.

Dead Oaks along the Bayou.

Dead Oaks along the Bayou.

Dead Oaks along the Bayou.

Dead Oaks along the Bayou.

Break in Lower Golden Meadow.

Pelican. Leeville, LA.

Pelican. Leeville, LA.

I got into Leeville and unfortunately could not find a place to pull up onto the shore near my campsite, so I had to paddle another hour around to the canal leading to Boudreaux’s Waterfront Motel – the last bit right into the wind. It was a gut check. All day, with the wind at my back, I had maintained about 5.5 mph. Now, with that gale in my face, I was struggling to hit 2 mph! I arrived at Boudreaux’s wet and freezing. The owner’s son was huddled with his bible group, and he took a break to show me around and where to change. Warm clothes and an added layer of rain gear over it warmed me up quickly. To get an idea of how cold it was, when I came back outside the bible group was setting up behind an exterior wall to block the cold wind.

Trawl Boats. Leeville, LA.

Elevated HWY 1 in Leeville, LA.

Elevated HWY 1 in Leeville, LA.

Gail's Bait Shop. Leeville, LA.

I walked just across the road to the Leeville Restaurant for a seafood feast – half fish half shrimp platter with sweet potato waffle fries. After dinner, I set up camp in a grassy patch near the hotel, as pre-arranged with the owner. Setting up was a challenge with the wind and the temps falling, but before long, all tent spikes were plunged securely into the rocky ground. The rain fly plus my trusty Mountain Hardware sleeping bag made for a very comfortable evening in spite of the bitter cold – the harshest overnight conditions of my trip, yet the best night’s sleep.

The Leeville Restaurant.

Fish and Shrimp Platter. The Leeville Restaurant.

Fish and Shrimp Platter. The Leeville Restaurant.

Leeville, LA.Boudreaux's Motel. Leeville, LA. I camped here.Leeville, LA.

Day 8 – Leeville to Fourchon – 4/16/14

Finally, the big push to the end. On this, the last day of my journey, I had to cover 14 miles from Leeville to Port Fourchon. In Leeville, the bayou was so wide that it looked more like a lake. It was so wide that I even had trouble navigating at times. Everything looked the same as waves came at me sideways, turning my boat left and right. It was a fight.

Leeville to Fourchon.

Also, this was a lonely day of paddling. The bayou side was no longer lined with houses. It was just me, gulls, and the marsh. Eventually, I made it to the north end of the port. At Port Fourchon, there were workers hanging off of supply vessels, cleaning or painting. Many of them yelled something or other at me, “Hey, what are you doing down there? Hey, nice boat. Hey, where you going? Hey, where you coming from?”, but at least there was someone that could talk back to me. Earlier in the day, I found myself talking to the birds and singing songs to pass the time. Leeville to Port Fourchon had exactly the seclusion that I’d been hoping for on this trip – isolation, silence, and nature. It was beautiful, but I realize now that had the whole trip been this isolating, I might have gone nuts.

This last day to Fourchon had fewer places to stop and stretch/rest than I thought there would be, so once again, I charged through it and made great time. The banks were infested with gnats. I could only stop for a short spell before being run off by a cloud of the tiny pests. I was cursed with crosswinds all day, and crosswinds mean crashing waves. Crashing waves means a wet, cold, and miserable cockpit. These conditions were my incentive to move fast and get it done.
And then there was another surprise. As I bypassed the port and all of its giant ships, I hugged the western bank. Once, when I got close enough, I noticed that the ground was covered in Prickly Pear Cactus – not what I was expecting to see in the southern Louisiana wetlands.
Edison Chouest boats at Pot Fourchon.

Edison Chouest boats at Pot Fourchon.

Break near Port Fourchon.

Prickly Pear Cactus!! Port Fourchon.

Prickly Pear Cactus!! Port Fourchon.

I had made a decision early on that going through the main shipping channel, into the gulf, would be foolish. If I wasn’t crushed by the giant vessels in the channel or flipped by their giant waves, then I would still have to make a u-turn out of the channel, and come back to the beach through the rock jetties. Plan B was to take the old pass to the east which spilled into Bay Champagne, which in turn was connected to the Gulf of Mexico. It was safer, smarter, and a more direct path to the beach.
When I got to the split, the actual “fourche” (or fork) in Lafourche, I took the eastern course. In no time, the bayou narrowed and I wound through marsh to the back of Bay Champagne, escorted by a porpoise the whole way. After 106 miles of paddling, the water finally shallowed into a bank of sand. This marked the end of Bayou Lafourche. I stepped out of the boat and walked onto the sand. There were still hundreds of feet of tidal zone between me and gulf.
I was very surprised to find that crews were still cleaning up from the 2010 BP Oil Spill – almost 4 years to the day since the accident! The beach was actually fenced off, closed off to the public. I couldn’t even access the actual beach. After all that paddling, all I could do was look out at the Gulf from afar. If I had gone through the main shipping channel, then I would have been stuck on the wrong side of an endless orange BP fence. Either way, my current location was a dead end. I would actually have to get back in my boat and paddle back to the the last road, about half a mile, and call for my pick up. My trip was over, and in the end I’m glad I did. Even though I was born and raised here for the first 17 years of my life, I feel like the last seven or so days have helped me to know the Bayou even more. If you’re interested in paddling Bayou Lafourche, I suggest you head on over to the Barataria-Terrebone National Estuary Program website and sign up for their annual Paddle Bayou Lafourche trip.
End of the line. Bay Champagne and The Gulf.

End of the line. Bay Champagne and The Gulf.

 

Cloudland Canyon: West Rim

Angela and I spent the last day of 2013 hiking the West Rim Trail in Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park. This 5 mile loop was a somewhat challenging hike that offered fantastic views of the valley below. It was a cold New Year’s Eve morning, and in some places the ground was still frozen.

This is the view from our cabin deck, overlooking the canyon below. This was our second time staying at Scenic View Log Cabins, and once again good folks there took care of us. I do recommend Scenic View, but I suggest you bring back -up toilet paper and coffee filters. The cabins are a quick 5-10 minute drive to the heart of the state park.

Cloudland Canyon

Cloudland Canyon

View of the fall from the trailhead. If you’re feeling up to it, and we were not, you can hike down another 3 miles to the lower falls. We admired from above.

Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon

Cloudland Canyon

Morning frost

Cloudland Canyon Cloudland Canyon

Cloudland Canyon

Yurt Village

Here’s something that I’d never even heard of before – Yurts! These ancient structures, most commonly associated with Mongolia, are known for their durability and portability. Frankly, I think they look cool too. These yurts are raised, insulated, animal proof, heated/cooled, and have accessible water. In addition, the Cloudland yurts have a fire pit and a raised deck. So if you’re in the mood to sort of rough it, I think the Yurt might be a great option. Think of it as a very fancy tent. The Yurt Village was opened in 2013 and prices at the time of our visit were $80, as compared to the $16 camping or the $140 cabins.

Cloudland Canyon

Cloudland Canyon

Cave?

Cloudland Canyon

Angela and I on the hike

Wissahickon Valley Park

The Wissahickon Creek

The Wissahickon Creek

Philadelphia, PA is an exciting city, brimming with history, great food, and if you look hard enough, very nice people. During my wife’s graduate studies at the University of the Arts, we were lucky enough to make several long-time friends. Most of our time in Philly was spent with these friends, making or looking at art or simply hanging out at each others apartments. One of our friends, Marisha, encouraged us to play outside now and then, pushing us to bike, hike, row, run, and climb. It is in large part due to Marisha that I yearn for the outdoors, as if she awakened the adventurous little boy in me, the one that I sort of forgot about. Likewise, Marisha can also be attributed to introducing us to the Wissahickon Valley Park in Northern Philadelphia.

Forbidden Drive I first visited the Wissahickon Valley Park on February 2, 2003. It was about 40 degrees out, so we bundled up, hopped in Marisha’s Subaru (Maisy Dog in tow), and winded our way north through the city, passed the museum, up Lincoln Drive, and into the frozen woods. We parked near the central hub of the park, the Valley Green Inn, and began our hike. Knowledge of this park was revelatory as it dawned on me that I could bike up here any day I wanted to and hike or climb as much as I like. Never before had something been so simultaneously accessible and awesome. My relationship with the park started on February 2, 2003 and only blossomed with each passing year.

For ten years, I have biked or driven into the Wissahickon, usually with a camera. In this slice, I attempt to exhibit the important landmarks of the park along with my favorite nooks and crannies. From my observations, I find that many park visitors begin their visit at the Valley Green Inn. For clarity, this post is divided into two sections: North of Valley Green Inn, and South of Valley Green Inn. Many times throughout this post, I reference the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), a non-profit focused on preserving the natural beauty of the Wissahickon.

Located in Northwest Philadelphia, the 1,800 acres of Wissahickon Valley Park are part of Philadelphia’s 10,500-acre park system, one of the largest urban park systems in the world. A lovely, wooded valley with Wissahickon Creek running through its entire seven-mile length, the Park extends from Chestnut Hill in the north to Manayunk in the southwest. Forbidden Drive, a wide gravel road closed to automobile traffic, parallels the Creek and the Park is criss-crossed by more than 50 miles of often rugged trails. ~ FOW.org

Below is a photo of Marisha on February 2nd, 2003 – my first time in the Wissahickon.

Marisha in the Wissahickon

Marisha in the Wissahickon

 

Valley Green Inn
The Valley Green Inn is a great place to start any day in the Wissahickon. It is easily accessible by car or bicycle, has a concession stand (they sell park maps), a restaurant, public restrooms, and is near to a creek crossing, in case you’re looking to trail hike on the other side of the creek.

Of the several inns which once dotted the Wissahickon Valley, Valley Green is the only one still in operation. Located on Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park, the Inn was built in 1850 on land owned by the Livezey family. The Livezeys sold the land on which it stood and 66 additional acres to the City of Philadelphia in 1872 as part of the Fairmount Park system. Fairmount Park leased the hotel to various managers until it was declared a ruin and scheduled for demolition in 1899. A group of local citizens rallied to its rescue raising the necessary funds to restore the building. In 1900, a group of prominent Philadelphia women took over its management and they changed the name to the Valley Green Inn, offering only light refreshments to park users.

The Friends of the Wissahickon has been responsible for the Inn since 1937 when a lease was obtained from the City. At the end of the 1980s, a new manager Bob Levy proposed another restoration and enlargement of the facility. Fundraising for this project began in earnest in 1996, and groundbreaking took place in 2002. Restored and enlarged, Valley Green now operates as a restaurant. ~ FOW.org

Valley Green Inn

Valley Green Inn

North of Valley Green Inn

Heading north from Valley Green Inn, Forbidden Drive follows the path of the Wissahickon Creek for about 2.6 miles. The first major site on this northern leg of the park is the Magargee Dam, built just upstream from where the Magargee Mill once stood. It was the last active mill on the Wissahickon. Most times of the year, you can hop from rock to rock, almost clear across the creek.

Magargee Dam

Magargee Dam

Magargee Dam

Magargee Dam

The PRO BONO PUBLICO fountain was built in 1854 for travelers on Forbidden Drive, formerly the Wissahickon Turnpike. Free-flowing, clean drinking water spouted from this fountain for 103 years, not quite living up to its inscription “PRO BONO PUBLICO, ESTO PERPETUA” which translates, “For the public good. Let it remain forever.”

Pro Bono Publico Fountain

Pro Bono Publico Fountain

Pro Bono Publico Fountain

Pro Bono Publico Fountain

 

In the depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a Federal program that gave work to the unemployed.  Some of the shelters, guard boxes, comfort stations, walls, dams, and trails seen throughout the Wissahickon were constructed by over 4,000+ WPA workers. Rex avenue shelter is one of these WPA shelters. It served as a guard house.

Rex Avenue Shelter

Rex Avenue Shelter

Fifty yards up Rex Avenue–via a switchback up the hillside–is the path leading to the Indian statue. This kneeling Lenape warrior was sculpted in 1902 by John Massey Rhind. Commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Henry, it is a tribute to the Lenape Indians who hunted and fished in the Wissahickon prior to the arrival of colonists. The dramatic 15-foot high sculpture, which is mistakenly believed to depict Chief Tedyuscung, the most famous member of the Lenape tribe, can also be viewed from Forbidden Drive across the creek if one stands just north of the path to the Rex Avenue Bridge. The white marble statue was designed to commemorate the passing of the native Lenape from the region. For this reason, the Indian depicted in the statue has his hand to his brow looking west in the direction of the departing tribe. Rhind was not concerned with accurate representation since he gave this East Coast forest Indian a Western Plains Indian war bonnet. The statue, which was hauled to the site by workhorses, is situated on Council Rock, the place where the ancient Lenape Indians are believed to have held their pow-wows. ~ FOW.org
Indian Statue

Indian Statue

Just north of the Indian Statue is the Thomas Mill Road Bridge, the only remaining of five covered bridges that once occupied the Wissahickon. A nearby historical marker also states that, “it’s the only covered bridge in a major U.S. city.”

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge

 

Whether you call it the Andorra Natural Area, Wissahickon Environmental Center, or The Tree House, these grounds have been maintained as a tree nursery since 1750 and now serves as an environmental educational center for young and old. Some of the activities include apple cider making in October, maple sugaring in February, the Tree House Tots program, and children’s summer programs. The nearby Cedars House Cafe is a lovely full service cafe, and a welcome relief for those who have just biked all the way from downtown Philadelphia!

Environmental Center

Environmental Center

Cedars House Cafe

Cedars House Cafe

Cedars House Cafe

Cedars House Cafe

 

 

South of Valley Green Inn

If you were to head south starting at Valley Green Inn, the first major site to stop at is Devil’s Pool. The Wissahiskon map states that, “According to legend, Devil’s Pool is said to have limitless depth. It is located near the junction of Cresheim and Wissahickon creeks.”

Devil's Pool

Devil’s Pool

In 1987 the Fairmount Park Art Association commissioned “Fingerspan”, a sculpture by internationally renowned artist Jody Pinto which functions as a pedestrian bridge. When a span over the gorge south of Livezey Dam deteriorated, Fairmount Park retrofitted and installed a staircase from an old ship. To replace the stairs, the artist designed “Fingerspan”, an outgrowth of the Fairmount Park Art Association’s Form and Function project. The span was fabricated in sections and installed by helicopter. A grant from the Art in Public Places Program of the National Endowment for the Arts supplemented funds from the Fairmount Park Art Association, and the work was donated to the City of Philadelphia. ~FOW.org

Fingerspan Bridge

Fingerspan Bridge

Joseph Gorgas built this house of Wissahickon schist at the end of Kitchen’s Lane around 1750. Though it never served as a monastery, its name may be a result of the religious activity attributed to this area.  When the Kitchen family occupied the house in the latter half of the 19th century, there were five cellars: one each for wine, milk, vinegar, potatoes and the “outside cellar.” These cellars may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. ~ FOW.org

Monastary

Monastary

Monastary

Monastary

 

On what was most likely a very cold Christmas day in 1723, Baptists participated in a service at this very location. This act was designated by the Church of the Brethren as the birth of their sect. Today, the spot is marked by an easily missed plaque. I suggest visitors walk down to the edge of the water and try to imagine what it would have looked like on that cold Christmas day.

Baptismal Pool

Baptismal Pool

Toleration Statue. Erected in 1883, this marble statue of a man in Quaker clothing is situated on a ridge on the eastern side of the Park just north of the Walnut Lane Bridge. Standing atop Mom Rinker’s Rock, the nine-foot-eight-inch statue has the word “Toleration” carved into its four-foot-three-inch base. The statue, which was created by late 19th century sculptor Herman Kirn, was brought to the site by landowner John Welsh who is reported to have purchased the statue at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Welsh, a former Fairmount Park Commissioner and U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, donated his land to the Park prior to his death in 1886. ~ FOW.org
On April 20, 2003, I climbed up Mom Rinker’s Rock, and let me tell you, Mr. Toleration has a nice view. While I was up there, a couple came up the “easy side” and we struck up a conversation. The husband was from Pittsburgh, and said that he came here as a kid. As he posed for a picture (taken by his wife) in front of the statue, he told me that he remembered the statue being much bigger. He also mentioned that the Fairmount Park was the largest municipal park in the country.

Toleration

Toleration

Toleration

Toleration

 

Another of the Works Progress Administration’s structures, Ten Box Shelter was used as a guard station. Its name comes from the fact that it held the tenth box of an old phone line. Today, it is the threshold to the path leading to Rittenhouse Town.

Ten Box Shelter

Ten Box Shelter

RittenhouseTown is the site of the first paper mill in North America, built in 1690 by William Rittenhouse. For over 150 years, the Rittenhouse family operated the mills while living on the site. By the late 18th century, RittenhouseTown had developed into a small self-sufficient industrial community with more than 40 buildings: homesteads, workers’ cottages, the paper mill complex, a church, a school, and a firehouse. In the late 1870s, the Rittenhouse family sold the industrial site to the City of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Today, only seven buildings still stand on the remaining 30 acres that were declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1992. ~ FOW.org

 

 

Lover’s Leap. According to the Wissahickon map, “Legend claims that the daughter of an indian chief and her lover plunged to their deaths from this dramatic cliff after she was promised to another man.” As far as I can tell, there is no marker for this spot. I simply used the trail map and my GPS device to come up with this, the only dramatic cliff I could find in this area.

Lover's Leap

Lover’s Leap

Kelpius’ cave. German Pietist Johannes Kelpius believed, along with his followers, that the world would end in 1694. The group crossed the Atlantic and settled in the Wissahickon where they meditated on the banks of the Wissahickon and in Kelpius’ cave. Unfortunately for them, the rapture never came. I looked for this spot for nearly two years in the Wissahickon, and finally, with the help of a detailed map of the park, I found the ancient sanctuary in November of 2008 while visiting Philadelphia for a friend’s wedding.

Kelpius' Cave

Kelpius’ Cave

Kelpius' Cave

Kelpius’ Cave

 

Over the last ten years, I have taken many photos in the park. Here are a few that don’t fit into the categories above:

Turtle

Turtle

Snake!

Snake!

Bassett Hounds

Bassett Hounds

 

In one of my 2003 visits, I climbed down near the water to get shots of the fly-fishers. The Wissahickon Creek holds 30 species of fish including: American eel, carp, goldfish, shiner, dace, darter, bass, and sunfish. Also, the creek is stocked with trout in April of every year, but not enough of that population survives to breed.

Fisherman

Fisherman

Livezy Rock is probably the spot that I’ve visited the most in the Wissahickon. Rain or shine, this hunk of Wissahickon Schist is a primo spot for boldering-a form of rock climbing where the climber is typically free of gear and only a few feet off the ground as he/she parallels the ground. I would bike up here and spend hours crisscrossing the same spots over and over again until my fingers screamed. There are anchors for actual climbing, but I only bouldered on Livezy.

Livezy Rock

Livezy Rock

The Wissahickon

The Wissahickon

 

One thing you realize quickly while hiking along the Wissahickon is the unique glimmer reflected by the rocks in the path. This stone is called Wissahickon schist and is very abundant in the valley – many homes in the area are made of this stone. The dirt even glimmers with embedded pieces of schist.

Wissahickon Schist

Wissahickon Schist

Stonework

Stonework

Stonework

Stonework

Taylor, Angela, and Marcel

Taylor, Angela, and Marcel

Now Angela and I have introduced Marcel to the Wissahickon Park. I look forward to long hikes with him, going from site to site and looking for new treasures in one of my favorite spots on Earth. I’ll leave you with this: Edgar Allan Poe, who had at least seven addresses in Philadelphia, would probably have considered the Wissahickon his country home address. He frequented the park and said this about it, “The Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue.” I implore you to read Poe’s The Elk or Morning on the Wissahickon below.

The Elk (or) Morning On The Wissahiccon by Edgar Allen Poe

The natural scenery of America has often been contrasted, in its general features as well as in detail, with the landscape of the Old World- more especially of Europe- and not deeper has been the enthusiasm, than wide the dissension, of the supporters of each region. The discussion is one not likely to be soon closed, for, although much has been said on both sides, a word more yet remains to be said.

The most conspicuous of the British tourists who have attempted a comparison, seem to regard our northern and eastern seaboard, comparatively speaking, as all of America, at least, as all of the United States, worthy consideration. They say little, because they have seen less, of the gorgeous interior scenery of some of our western and southern districts- of the vast valley of Louisiana, for example,- a realization of the wildest dreams of paradise. For the most part, these travelers content themselves with a hasty inspection of the natural lions of the land- the Hudson, Niagara, the Catskills, Harper’s Ferry, the lakes of New York, the Ohio, the prairies, and the Mississippi. These, indeed, are objects well worthy the contemplation even of him who has just clambered by the castellated Rhine, or roamed

By the blue rushing of the arrowy Rhone;

but these are not all of which we can boast; and, indeed, I will be so hardy as to assert that there are innumerable quiet, obscure, and scarcely explored nooks, within the limits of the United States, that, by the true artist, or cultivated lover of the grand and beautiful amid the works of God, will be preferred to each and to all of the chronicled and better accredited scenes to which I have referred.

In fact, the real Edens of the land lie far away from the track of our own most deliberate tourists- how very far, then, beyond the reach of the foreigner, who, having made with his publisher at home arrangements for a certain amount of comment upon America, to be furnished in a stipulated period, can hope to fulfill his agreement in no other manner than by steaming it, memorandum- book in hand, through only the most beaten thoroughfares of the country!

I mentioned, just above, the valley of Louisiana. Of all extensive areas of natural loveliness, this is perhaps the most lovely. No fiction has approached it. The most gorgeous imagination might derive suggestions from its exuberant beauty. And beauty is, indeed, its sole character. It has little, or rather nothing, of the sublime. Gentle undulations of soil, interwreathed with fantastic crystallic streams, banked by flowery slopes, and backed by a forest vegetation, gigantic, glossy, multicoloured, sparkling with gay birds and burthened with perfume- these features make up, in the vale of Louisiana, the most voluptuous natural scenery upon earth.

But, even of this delicious region, the sweeter portions are reached only by the bypaths. Indeed, in America generally, the traveler who would behold the finest landscapes, must seek them not by the railroad, nor by the steamboat, not by the stage-coach, nor in his private carriage, not yet even on horseback- but on foot. He must walk, he must leap ravines, he must risk his neck among precipices, or he must leave unseen the truest, the richest, and most unspeakable glories of the land.

Now in the greater portion of Europe no such necessity exists. In England it exists not at all. The merest dandy of a tourist may there visit every nook worth visiting without detriment to his silk stockings; so thoroughly known are all points of interest, and so well-arranged are the means of attaining them. This consideration has never been allowed its due weight, in comparisons of the natural scenery of the Old and New Worlds. The entire loveliness of the former is collated with only the most noted, and with by no means the most eminent items in the general loveliness of the latter.

River scenery has, unquestionably, within itself, all the main elements of beauty, and, time out of mind, has been the favourite theme of the poet. But much of this fame is attributable to the predominance of travel in fluvial over that in mountainous districts. In the same way, large rivers, because usually highways, have, in all countries, absorbed an undue share of admiration. They are more observed, and, consequently, made more the subject of discourse, than less important, but often more interesting streams.

A singular exemplification of my remarks upon this head may be found in the Wissahiccon, a brook, (for more it can scarcely be called,) which empties itself into the Schuylkill, about six miles westward of Philadelphia. Now the Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue, if, indeed, its banks were not parcelled off in lots, at an exorbitant price, as building-sites for the villas of the opulent. Yet it is only within a very few years that any one has more than heard of the Wissahiccon, while the broader and more navigable water into which it flows, has been long celebrated as one of the finest specimens of American river scenery. The Schuylkill, whose beauties have been much exaggerated, and whose banks, at least in the neighborhood of Philadelphia, are marshy like those of the Delaware, is not at all comparable, as an object of picturesque interest, with the more humble and less notorious rivulet of which we speak.

It was not until Fanny Kemble, in her droll book about the United States, pointed out to the Philadelphians the rare loveliness of a stream which lay at their own doors, that this loveliness was more than suspected by a few adventurous pedestrians of the vicinity. But, the “Journal” having opened all eyes, the Wissahiccon, to a certain extent, rolled at once into notoriety. I say “to a certain extent,” for, in fact, the true beauty of the stream lies far above the route of the Philadelphian picturesque-hunters, who rarely proceed farther than a mile or two above the mouth of the rivulet- for the very excellent reason that here the carriage-road stops. I would advise the adventurer who would behold its finest points to take the Ridge Road, running westwardly from the city, and, having reached the second lane beyond the sixth mile-stone, to follow this lane to its termination. He will thus strike the Wissahiccon, at one of its best reaches, and, in a skiff, or by clambering along its banks, he can go up or down the stream, as best suits his fancy, and in either direction will meet his reward.

I have already said, or should have said, that the brook is narrow. Its banks are generally, indeed almost universally, precipitous, and consist of high hills, clothed with noble shrubbery near the water, and crowned at a greater elevation, with some of the most magnificent forest trees of America, among which stands conspicuous the liriodendron tulipiferum. The immediate shores, however, are of granite, sharply defined or moss-covered, against which the pellucid water lolls in its gentle flow, as the blue waves of the Mediterranean upon the steps of her palaces of marble. Occasionally in front of the cliffs, extends a small definite plateau of richly herbaged land, affording the most picturesque position for a cottage and garden which the richest imagination could conceive. The windings of the stream are many and abrupt, as is usually the case where banks are precipitous, and thus the impression conveyed to the voyager’s eye, as he proceeds, is that of an endless succession of infinitely varied small lakes, or, more properly speaking, tarns. The Wissahiccon, however, should be visited, not like “fair Melrose,” by moonlight, or even in cloudy weather, but amid the brightest glare of a noonday sun; for the narrowness of the gorge through which it flows, the height of the hills on either hand, and the density of the foliage, conspire to produce a gloominess, if not an absolute dreariness of effect, which, unless relieved by a bright general light, detracts from the mere beauty of the scene.

Not long ago I visited the stream by the route described, and spent the better part of a sultry day in floating in a skiff upon its bosom. The heat gradually overcame me, and, resigning myself to the influence of the scenes and of the weather, and of the gentle moving current, I sank into a half slumber, during which my imagination reveled in visions of the Wissahiccon of ancient days- of the “good old days” when the Demon of the Engine was not, when picnics were undreamed of, when “water privileges” were neither bought nor sold, and when the red man trod alone, with the elk, upon the ridges that now towered above. And, while gradually these conceits took possession of my mind, the lazy brook had borne me, inch by inch, around one promontory and within full view of another that bounded the prospect at the distance of forty or fifty yards. It was a steep rocky cliff, abutting far into the stream, and presenting much more of the Salvator character than any portion of the shore hitherto passed. What I saw upon this cliff, although surely an object of very extraordinary nature, the place and season considered, at first neither startled nor amazed me- so thoroughly and appropriately did it chime in with the half-slumberous fancies that enwrapped me. I saw, or dreamed that I saw, standing upon the extreme verge of the precipice, with neck outstretched, with ears erect, and the whole attitude indicative of profound and melancholy inquisitiveness, one of the oldest and boldest of those identical elks which had been coupled with the red men of my vision.

I say that, for a few moments, this apparition neither startled nor amazed me. During this interval my whole soul was bound up in intense sympathy alone. I fancied the elk repining, not less than wondering, at the manifest alterations for the worse, wrought upon the brook and its vicinage, even within the last few years, by the stern hand of the utilitarian. But a slight movement of the animal’s head at once dispelled the dreaminess which invested me, and aroused me to a full sense of novelty of the adventure. I arose upon one knee within the skiff, and, while I hesitated whether to stop my career, or let myself float nearer to the object of my wonder, I heard the words “hist!” “hist!” ejaculated quickly but cautiously, from the shrubbery overhead. In an instant afterwards, a negro emerged from the thicket, putting aside the bushes with care, and treading stealthily. He bore in one hand a quantity of salt, and, holding it towards the elk, gently yet steadily approached. The noble animal, although a little fluttered, made no attempt at escape. The negro advanced; offered the salt; and spoke a few words of encouragement or conciliation. Presently, the elk bowed and stamped, and then lay quietly down and was secured with a halter.

Thus ended my romance of the elk. It was a pet of great age and very domestic habits, and belonged to an English family occupying a villa in the vicinity.

First published in 1844, in The Opal, p. 249.

 

 

Houston, TX

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New Iberia, LA

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#006: Andy Sninsky – Riding for a Cure

Play

DSC_0035 New Orleans, LA / March 9th, 2012
Andy Sninsky is a 63 year old Stage III Multiple Myeloma Survivor and an avid cyclist. He turns his love of cycling into a quest for a cure by raising awareness about the disease. I sat down with Andrew at The Joint, in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, LA. He told me his story over a few Abita Ambers.

 

Baton Rouge, LA