June 2016 Trip: North Carolina

I’m back with the final installment about my June 2016 trip! Feel free to read about Shenandoah National Park and traversing the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia. For the final couple days of my trip, I visited my friend Cassie who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She moved there last December so I jumped at the chance to visit her for a couple days. I rolled into Winston-Salem early Sunday afternoon and stayed until early Tuesday morning. On Sunday, we went out for lunch at Village Tavern where I embraced being in the South and had sweet tea. Yum! We also toured the HanesBrands Corporate offices, where she works, had coffee at Camino Bakery & Coffee Bar, and wandered around downtown in the art district. There was wall art everywhere throughout this area of downtown and I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos. We talked about anything and everything. It was sooo fun to catch up with her.

Cassie at Hanes Brands HQ

Cassie at HanesBrands HQ

Winston-Salem, NC - Artivity area in arts district with Cassie

Cassie & I

Winston-Salem, NC - murals in art district

Art in downtown Winston-Salem

On Monday, Cassie had to work her normal day and I vegged at her apartment. I had been going non-stop for almost a week. It was so nice to not do a whole lot. Once she was done with work, we ventured out. Our first stop was Tart Sweets. When I first started doing my research about Winston-Salem, I found Tart Sweets through Instagram. I knew instantly that I had to make a visit to this bakery/coffee shop. It’s in a converted old house and is gorgeous. Here’s the inside.

Winston-Salem, NC - Tart Sweets

Tart Sweets – inside

After Tart Sweets, we walked around Wake Forest University. While I don’t ever see myself working at a private university, I do love walking through the grounds. They’re usually absolutely gorgeous. On the Wake Forest campus, my favorite building was the chapel.

Winston-Salem, NC - Wake Forest University Chapel

Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University

Tuesday morning meant an early start (6am!). I had a late morning flight out of Charlotte, so I had to get on the road for a couple hour drive, return my rental car, and get through security. Everything travel-wise went smoothly and I was back in Duluth by 5:30pm. Whenever I fly, I try to book a window seat. I love watching the country go by underneath me. I couldn’t resist snapping a picture once I saw Lake Superior. As much as I love to travel, I love coming home too.

View of Lake Superior from plane

Lake Superior from the air

Well, that’s it for my June 2016 trip. Next up, planning for my 2017 trips! As of right now, I’ll be venturing to New York City and Portland, Oregon. Time to get some research done.

June 2016 Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

Now we’re onto the next part of my June 2016 trip adventure – the Blue Ridge Parkway. The BRP, as I like to call it, runs through Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. On the National Park Service website, it describes the BRP as this: “A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals, and providing opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region of the country so special.” The BRP is gorgeous! I drove miles 1 to 200 in Virginia, over two days.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA

I used a combination of web research (mainly NPS website and looking for posts on Pinterest) and print research. I happened to find a travel book by Moon Travel Guides specifically about the Blue Ridge Parkway at my local Barnes & Noble. The book also had a good amount of information on Shenandoah National Park.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - mile 19

The view up above is a favorite. I will say it wasn’t an instant, in-the-moment favorite (even though I did really like it), but one I’ve grown to absolutely love since I’ve been home. If I remember correctly, it was around mile 19.

There are official Visitor Centers all along the BRP. I stopped at 5 of them – Humpback Rocks, James River, Peaks of Otter, Rocky Knob, and Mabry Mill.

brp-road

This photo…I love it. I wanted to capture what it looked like to actually be driving on the road. It was such a great experience and I wanted to hold onto that memory. The traffic was surprisingly light (even though it was the weekend), so it was no problem to just stop in the middle of the road, grab the photo, and keep on with the journey.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Chimney Rock Mtn Overlook

My instant favorite view is this one. It was taken at the Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook at mile 45. So many layers of blue! The photo doesn’t do it justice.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Otter Creek Dam area

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - The Saddle

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - official signage at Rocky Knob Visitor Center

Here’s the road signage for the parkway. Fun fact, the sign would show what side the upcoming overlook was, by the orientation of the image. If the mountains were on the left (as above) your overlook was on the left. It did take me awhile to figure it out. Once I did, it was helpful.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Mabry mill

The Mabry Mill (pictured above) was my final major stop on the Parkway. I stayed overnight Saturday in Roanoke, VA (great spot with a lot of options!) and drove my final 80 miles of the Parkway on Sunday morning. My goal was to make it to Winston-Salem, NC by early afternoon. My BRP book said this about Mabry Mill, “Called by many ‘the most picturesque spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway,’ Mabry Mill is among the top five places to photograph in any season. Making it a sure stop on your journey.” It is also a interpretive center to give visitors an idea of the agricultural/pastoral life in this section of the Appalachian Mountains.

I hopped off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile 200 in Fancy Gap, VA to make my way to Winston-Salem, NC to see my friend Cassie. I’ll be back again soon to share the final portion of my trip.

You can read part 1 about Shenandoah National Park.

June 2016 Trip: Shenandoah NP

This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to the mid-Atlantic region of the US. My reason for traveling was an assessment institute for work. Once I got the okay to attend the institute, I decided to add a few days to the trip since I was visiting an area of the country new to me. Initially, the institute was to take place in Charlotte, NC, and then was moved to just outside of Baltimore, MD. When the trip was still to Charlotte, my loose plan had been to spend a few days visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park and also my friend Cassie who lives in North Carolina. Then all the plans changed! I was so set on seeing Cassie, so I had to figure out how to get myself from Baltimore to Winston-Salem, NC. Enter, America’s Favorite Drive. I wanted a fun way to get myself through Maryland and Virginia, preferably with some National Park stuff along the way. I drove through Maryland; a snapshot of West VirginiaShenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia; and North Carolina. My plan is to write separate posts about the BRP and North Carolina. Today is all about Shenandoah!

I’ll rewind a little bit because I have to share a photo from the very start of my trip. I flew Duluth to Minneapolis to Baltimore. I left Duluth on the first flight out at 5:15am! The sun was rising as we were taking off and it was gorgeous!

Leaving Duluth at Sunrise

Fast-forward 4 days, I’m done with the work portion of my trip and I’m off to do fun things!  I picked up my rental car and ventured to Shenandoah. Let me just say, Maryland is gorgeous. There were so many trees and it was so lush. I also happened to drive through just about the worst rainstorm I’ve ever driven in. I was so happy when I got out of that. Not fun.

Shenandoah NP, VA

I got to Shenandoah around 3pm (my institute went until about 11am and I left the Baltimore area around 12/12:30pm). Since I was staying in the park at one of the lodges, I only had to get through about half the park. For those who’ve never been to Shenandoah…the park is rather narrow and about 100 miles long. The single road that runs north/south (Skyline Drive) has a speed limit of about 35mph. It’s designed for you to meander and enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Plus, slower speeds are safer for the animals that live in the park. I stayed at the Big Meadows Lodge in one of the terrace rooms. I so highly recommend it! My view was of the mountains and I had the perfect view at sunset.

Shenandoah NP, VA - Range View Overlook 1 of 2

I journaled at the end of each day throughout my trip. Here’s a portion of what I wrote about the park.

Oh, Shenandoah. This park is something else. It’s officially the 10th National Park I have visited and the 15th overall National Park System site. This park is so gorgeous. Every view and overlook are beautiful. The drive on Skyline Drive is…the best. The trees and the slowness…I love it all. A preview of all day tomorrow as I drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Shenandoah NP, VA - 1 of 2

Before I got to the lodge for the evening, it started raining. It paused long enough for me to get all my stuff to my room. Then, more rain. Magically, the rain stopped and the clouds parted for sunset. Just stunning. I kept pinching myself because I was able to walk 10 steps out of my room and have this incredible view. Again, booking the room at one of the lodges in the park was sooo worth it.

Shenandoah NP, VA - Sunset outside room at Big Meadow Lodge

The next morning was so foggy! After I got ready for the day, I ventured into the main part of the lodge for breakfast. After breakfast, I walked a path about a mile to the Byrd Visitor Center. I really had wanted to do some hiking in the park, I just didn’t have enough time.

Shenandoah NP, VA - walk to Byrd Visitor Center

The fog was so creepy, yet cool, all at the same time. It was probably some of the worst fog I’ve experienced, and I live on Lake Superior,where we know fog! So that’s saying something.

Shenandoah NP, VA - walk to Byrd Visitor Center

After checking out the Visitor Center and picking up a few souvenirs, I headed back to the lodge. I checked out and got back on the road. I drove through the second half of the park. It was rather foggy, so I felt like I really didn’t see too much. Oh well. As you leave Shenandoah National Park, you connect to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ll leave that adventure for another day!

Happy Birthday NPS

Tomorrow (August 25th) the National Park Service is celebrating 100 years of existence. How exciting is that?! National Parks have been named one of “America’s Best Ideas.” The Ken Burns six-part documentary on the parks explains this: “THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA is nonetheless a story of people: people from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.” (source) Having been to national parks, historic sites, memorials, lake shores, and more…I agree with this quote whole-heartedly.

Mount Rushmore

I stepped foot into my first national park just over 6 years ago. Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Amazement. Breathtaking. Wanting to photograph every view just in case I’d forget it someday. Just pausing to soak it all in. This adventure into Badlands NP would start a love affair with: the National Park Service, travel, hiking, state parks, nature, and more. I’ve visited a number of NPS sites over the past 6 years, but it’s just a drop in the bucket of what’s possible. President Obama just designated the 413th NPS site: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.

Apostle Islands

In honor of the centennial of the National Park Service, I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from my visits to different sites. To date I have visited:

There are so many more I want to visit. I have a pretty strong feeling that I’ll gladly spend the rest of my life chipping away at this “to-visit” list.

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Chimney Rock Mtn Overlook

TRNP

Ute Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Shenandoah NP, VA

YNP

Voyageurs NP

Going on an Adventure

Happy Summer!! Tomorrow I’m celebrating a pretty big milestone…5 years of working at UMD. Woo! I still love the work, the people, and the students. I can’t ask for much more than that.

I’m also excitedly off from work for the next couple weeks. Yay Vacation! I’m attending ACPA’s Student Affairs Assessment Institute in Baltimore and then hitting the road for a couple day road trip through Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. So excited! I’ve been prepping and mapping out my route. Can’t wait to go on my adventure! For prep materials I’m using a mixture of State Visitor guides, Google, Pinterest, and two books by Moon Travel Guides. Per usual, too many fun things to do and not enough time.

Adventure Vacation

Source: the #adventure digital word art is from Ali Edwards and the Pinterest Passport freebies she has available right now to help celebrate the start of summer.

Colorado Adventure: The Highlights

This summer I was able to spend 9 great days in Colorado for vacation. I originally thought Summer 2015 would happen without a major trip outside MN/WI. Then Kendra mentioned she was traveling to Denver for a conference and wondered if I wanted to tag along. Umm, yes! With only about a month to figure out the details, we planned a 9 day trip that encompassed some of the great activities Colorado has to offer. For today, I thought I’d share some of the highlights from our trip. I amazingly was able to pick 5 photos from the 500+ I took. I hope to also share a few more posts to highlight each of our different adventures.

While Kendra conferenced for the first half of the trip, I enjoyed decompressing from the busy school year. September to May are always so hectic. That’s why I like to take a lengthy vacation during the summer…just to relax a little and not think about work for awhile. I mostly vegged, read in Sense & Sensibility, and ate good food at the restaurants at our resort. My friend Ashley, from grad school, had just moved to Colorado and she came into Denver to hangout one of the days. We wandered around downtown Denver in the heat (so hot…I missed my natural air conditioner of Lake Superior) and saw the state capitol area.

CO Capitol

Once Kendra was done with her conference, we got to go play in the mountains for a couple days. First stop, Red Rocks! We were told by several people that any future concerts we go to will pale in comparison to one we would see at Red Rocks. The acoustics were amazing! We saw the group Wilco and only got rained on a little bit. Seeing the Denver lights in the background was also beautiful.

Red Rocks

After the concert we traveled north to Estes Park for the next leg of our trip: Rocky Mountain National Park. Truly playing in the mountains. RMNP was my 9th National Park and was a splendid day and a half.

Ute Trail RMNP

Highlights from RMNP:

  • Hiked on 4 different trails (and also small spurs at various areas)
  • Visited the Alpine Visitor Center which is the highest elevation visitor center in the National Park Services system
  • Enjoyed wildflower season
  • Hiked on the Continental Divide
  • Had our breath taken away by the beauty of the alpine region…and actually because hiking at 12,000ft is no joke.

K&E RMNP

After RMNP, we ventured back into Denver for 1.5 days of beer tasting. On our way back into Denver we stopped at New Belgium Brewing (a favorite) in Fort Collins, Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, and Boulder Beer Co in Boulder. Our last full day in Denver involved a lot of walking, 6 breweries, and 1 cidery. We visited Denver Beer Co (a favorite), Wynkoop Brewing Co, Denver ChopHouse & Brewery, Blue Moon at the Sandlot (at the CO Rockies stadium & also a favorite), Great Divide Brewing Co, Epic Brewing, and Stem Ciders (a favorite). I know that sounds like a lot. We were strategic with our tasting and we shared tasters of 3-4 kinds at each place.

Denver Bridge

Such a fun place. I can’t wait to go back some day. And, just a side note, all the photos featured were taken with my phone.