Monday, February 27, 2017

Southern Hospitality in Louisiana

We spent our last days in Arkansas at Petite Jean State Park. They offer Yurt rentals! We are excited about the idea of a Yurt, possibly to live in, even if just temporarily. We thought it would be fun and since it was close to Valentines day it was our Valentines gift to ourselves.

Cedar Falls

Before check in we did a few hikes. They don't have any that are particularly long. We did the Cedar falls trail, which ended at a beautiful waterfall, then did a shorter hike to Bear Cave. It had several HUGE boulders that you were not supposed to climb, but it was evident that everyone did, of course we did. At check in we found out we get a canoe with our rental! It happened to be 75 and gorgeous that day so we changed into our bathing suits and got on the water.

 View from the Yurt

Canoe and the Yurt

The next day we hiked the Seven Hollows Trail. It was a beautiful 5 mile hike that included a natural bridge, grotto and turtle rocks (rocks that look like a turtle shell). I really loved the hollows, being surrounded by limestone rock on each side of you at least 50-60 feet high. There were many spots that looked like a good shelter. After our hike we packed up, checked out and headed south to Louisiana!
From inside the grotto

We went to a campground and I was a little surprised to find we were the only ones. We spent two days at this lovely campsite on the water when we learned why no one else was around. We read the signs wrong when we got there, the campground was closed for renovations. So that cut short our stay. We then headed all the way south, as far as we could go to the beach! I was a very happy Angie wearing flip flops in February. After several restful days on the beach we went to Lafayette.

Running at the campground the day before heading to the beach

We woke up on the beach, it was a bit windy so we drove a little while to a wildlife refuge to make and eat breakfast while listening to the sing songs of red winged black birds. On our drive to Lafayette we stopped to pick up four hitchhikers. Two humans and there two 3 month old puppies. We talked for the entire hour and a half drive sharing traveling stories. We dropped them off with hugs and well wishes.
Sunset (gorgeous evening watching Dolphins, pelicans, seagulls and least terns)

Our first stop in Lafayette was to the Vermilionville Historic Village. It is a living history museum with people demonstrating various crafts. It was Sunday, and they just so happen to have live cajun music on Sunday from 1-4pm. As we sat in the parking lot eating our lunch and preparing to go in we met an older couple heading in. They were dressed up for dancing with Mardi gras colors. I distinctly remember the mans Mardi gras bead tie, very classy. We exchanged some friendly banter before they went in. We followed a little while behind and as we approached the entrance they came out and handed us two arm bands for entry. The gentleman said, "Welcome to the South!". I was touched by his friendliness and generosity. We explored the museum and danced a little to the cajun music in between. We learned a lot about the history of the melting pot that is Louisiana. I wondered why I didn't know more about this marvelous place sooner. I asked Matthew if he wanted to move to Louisiana, mainly joking. I am already in love with the culture here and the food! We savored our first boudin, followed by crawfish ettouffe pot pie and finished it off with a bananas foster bread pudding. We shared everything and still couldn't finish the dessert. We went to bed with happy bellies and happy hearts.

Only photo I took that day

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras... I may or may not report on that day, I like to keep some things to myself, hehe

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Arkansas Love

We've had some beautiful sunsets, here a quick shot I got of the sky above our campsite

On our last climb day we lounged around until the afternoon, and got in 2 climbs. The first one I did was a 5.7+, so the hardest climb I am able to do here. The added + at the end means someone thought it was tricky enough it could be a 5.8. It was hard but I did it. I was glad it was my first (inevitably only that day) climb because it really wore out my forearms and I don't think I would have done well if it was the second climb. Oh, when I say we got 2 climbs in, I mean Matthew did two. I attempted the second climb, it was a 5.8+ and I couldn't get beyond the first few moves. After Matthew did it he confirmed it was a little out of my league, it was tough for him. We were going to head out to a third, easier climb when the wind picked up and temperature started to drop. I decided I wanted to head back to camp because it was getting cold fast and I was only in a tank top. We were both glad I made that decision because it got down to the teens that evening.
At the top of the 5.7+

The next day we headed back to a trail in the Buffalo River National forest. The hike was nice, got down to the hemmed in hollow falls, which was more of a trickle. They are in a bit of a drought here. As we drove down into the valley of our planned campsite we noticed the smoke. Apparently they were not done with the controlled burns. The entire valley was getting covered in thick smoke. We turned around and headed south again. This time we went to Ouachita National Forest, to a campsite about 3 and a half hours away. The site was ok but not as well loved as the campground at Sams throne.
Hemmed in hollow falls

I found a campsite but little planned for us to do in the area. I was disappointed because there were 3 hikes I had lined up at Buffalo river. We spent our first day there driving all over exploring the many dirt roads. It's one of Matthew's favorite past times. We also took a short trip to Lake Ouachita.
Lake Ouachita

The following day we did more exploring but mainly on foot. We didn't see signs for hiking trails so we just hiked more dirt roads we found. With luck the last one we hiked had both a spring and a river, along with a nice area far from the main road to camp out. I didn't mention that day was a gorgeous high of 78! Once settled in we walked back to the river for some MUCH needed bathing.
the photo doesn't do this place justice

The river is gorgeous, there is a break along the river of rocks covered in moss and it has a majestic feel. There are rocks along the side of the river of many different characteristics.  I picked up a handful and counted at least 7 different kinds of rocks. It made me go look up the characteristics that distinguish rocks from each other. There may be a rock hound brewing in me.

Matthew and I have been delightfully surprised at how much we like Arkansas. He even said, "Want to move to Arkansas?", and I'm sure he was only half joking. We are already seriously considering Missouri (and Virginia and Vermont). If we were to move to Missouri, being close to all this beauty would be an added bonus. Arkansas has three national forests in the northwest section of the state: the Buffalo River, Ozark and Ouachita. You can rock climb, hike, backpack, horseback ride, do a canoe float down the river.. it is full of amazing opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty. There are mountains, rivers, cold and hot springs, caves, diverse plants and geology and so far, some of the friendliest people we've come across.

We were worried about going south and what we may encounter. To be honest, we were worried about people not liking the color of my skin, and therefore not being kind to me/us. I read a little before coming here about a white supremacy leadership training near one of the cities we went to. This has made me, sadly, hyper concerned for my safety. I decided to not allow this to limit me in any way. I have continued to go out and do whatever I normally would, with a friendly smile to all I pass. The only hint of it was from a billboard advertising an alt right radio station and white supremacy. I have not experienced any racism. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming. I want to apologize for even feeling/thinking it would be a problem. It's interesting because Matthew was worried he would see a lot of it in Virginia before moving there. I thought he was crazy, since I grew up in Virginia. The fact is that it exists everywhere, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps because my boyfriend is white? I do wonder if my experience would be different if I were traveling with my brother or someone else of color. Does my white boyfriend offer a buffer? I feel strange typing this. It bothers me that there is a legitimate reason to even think these things.

I often get upset because I have an increased awareness of racism now. My parents had friends of all backgrounds, treated everyone equally and they did not speak about skin color playing a major factor in their lives. Society taught me the racism that exists. I remember the day we were looking at buying a new home. We were walking the neighborhood of a house we were considering when a car drove past, turned around and both passengers got out. They were a middle aged white couple who felt compelled to inform us that this area was not for us, we would not fit in. I have not experienced many blatant moments of racism, but each one I have had has left a strong impression. I remember being baffled, wasn't this history? Surely, we had moved past this. They knew nothing about us except what we looked like. By this time I was a teenager, still figuring out myself and the world. I remember feeling hurt and sad that they would want us gone for no other reason than our skin color.

We didn't choose that house and I'm not sure I'm glad we didn't. Part of me wishes we had, just to piss them off or better yet to prove them wrong by somehow getting to know each other and be seen as equal.. not someone to fear or hate. When I am talking to Matthew about possible places to live, I have thought "but there are hardly any people of color there". I want to live in a happy go lucky, liberal utopia of diversity. Then I think how good it would be to spread diversity by being one of the few people of color in a predominantly white area. I can choose to live in my comfort zone, or I can choose to make myself and others uncomfortable, in order to live where I please and with luck, to help change minds. For all I know we will end up in a happy go lucky liberal utopia of diversity, but I won't limit my possibilities. I've learned different places are not as different as I expected, and although racism is everywhere, good people are everywhere too. I continue to dream that my pre-racist awareness of the world will come true.

To end on a happy note, here are a few guys serenading us on Valentines day...
They were wonderful!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Snowbirds playing with prairie fire and rock climbing

I'm surprised to find it has been 3 weeks since my last post. We've certainly been busy in that time. I left off with us arriving in Wisconsin. During our time there we snuggled with Josiah, spent way too much time on Facebook reading political articles/posts/comments, proudly attended the Womens March in Madison, messed with our truck cap multiple times to finally get it close to how it was, got an alignment on the truck (wish that was done before all that driving on ice), visited Madison's state capitol (beautiful building), met Ivan for lunch, enjoyed dinner with friends then headed South back to Missouri.

 Inside Madison State Capitol

 First time trying cheese curds, fried cheese - can't go wrong

Josiah is very serious at his first protest

We are basically backtracking and doing what we should have done, and just headed South for the winter! In our hearts we felt we were doing the right thing, unfortunately we never made it to the Sacred Stone camp to see for ourselves what it was all about (we had and since have heard a lot of different sides to that story).

We reunited with Adam the ecological restoration and controlled burning expert. It was a joy to see him again. We spent our first day at the Botanical Gardens in St. Louis followed by lunch at a wonderful little Thai restaurant and warm cookies from across the street. We spent a few days at Adams house then went to his fathers farm in the Mark Twain national forest. It was burning season and Adam hadn’t done any yet, Lucky us! We were his little helpers and that consisted of Oohhs and aaahs the first evening as watched and were on hand if he needed assistance.

 Cocoa pods

 pretty Orchids
 Great Thai food at a little hole in the wall
 helping Adam process seeds, forgot to mention that part
Lots of fluffy seeds

To explain what little I know, Adam has the land broken up into sections of fields. There are certain fields that burn and some that don’t. The one’s that do are primarily made up of Native grasses and plants that thrive on burning every few years, some reasons are: Certain plants need fire to germinate, for plants to out compete other plants that don’t do well when they are burned, it also effects the soil chemistry. Now, controlled burns start with having the right conditions. Adam spends a lot of time looking at weather conditions to burn on the optimal day and time. There needs to be a few days of no rain. The winds and humidity are key on the day of. Before the burning starts there needs to be a fire break. This he creates by mowing around the area to burn; then, when the burning starts it is done up wind. So if you have a field with consistent west winds you start burning along the eastern edge of the field, this creates an even bigger fire break.

I have a TON of fire photos, here's a sampling from that day...

The aftermath

Burn day was a little too windy, so we waited until evening when the wind shifts and calms down, I think we started around 4-5pm. Since we were there Adam was taking his time and did an easy slow burn. He would gradually go further in and burn another 5-8 feet away from where the fire had burned into. If he really wanted to, once the fire break was sufficient, he could just go along the western edge and use the head wind to burn the field in just a few minutes. He burned 4 fields that evening this way, and it was super fun to watch. We stayed nice and toasty into the evening even as the temperatures dropped to the teens. Well, until the burning stopped at least. Then we crawled into our sleeping bags, me fully dressed in wool, and fell asleep.

The next day he planned on a woodland fire and another prairie field fire. The woodland fire was very different as it didn’t have as much fuel, the flames didn’t get as large and the burn was even slower than the prairie fire the day before. The prairie field that day had a LOT of fuel on the other hand and at one point I felt like the hairs on my cheek were burning off.. it did for a few people. He had a lot more help this day as these fields were larger than the day before. It was a good thing too because a spark did get into a neighboring field that had to be put out.
 woodland fire

End of the large prairie fire

Again, I have a LOT of photos and videos, unfortunately not enough time right now to post them.

That evening we dined on a delicious stew of venison, carrots, onions, cabbage, sweet potatoes and love. The next day we rode to O’reillys to buy a new starter relay, the starter was acting up on the truck. Thankfully that fixed the problem, it could have easily been a longer story. We then said our farewells and continued South to Arkansas.

Our first stop was the Buffalo River National Forest. We stayed at Kyles Landing campsite for 3 days. The weather was a wonderful 60-70‘s during the day, and a chilly 20-30‘s at night. We spent the first two days at the campsite, doing only a short hike on one day. Mostly we lounged around taking in the sun, doing warm day activities. We woke the third morning to an unreasonable amount of smoke. We were planning on driving out to a hike so we just got dressed and left. At the trailhead we talked to locals who told us they were doing controlled burns nearby for the next few days. Matthew has asthma so this was a downer. We headed back to the campsite to get our stuff and leave but that smoke had cleared in the hour we were gone. Matthew thought we should take advantage and take a quick hike then decide if we should leave. We did a loop on a trail off the campsite and noticed smoke in the distance. On this hike we got to cross the river, twice. That means we took off our socks and shoes, walked almost up to our knees in freezing cold water, twice. The first time wasn’t too bad, it was only about ankle deep, until the last bit when it reached calf level. I only cried a little that time. By the second crossing my feet were more accustomed and I didn’t cry at all!
 He found an oak leaf as large as his head!
First time seeing an Armadillo in person

second river crossing

I don’t know for sure why I do this to myself. I guess it goes along with pushing against my comfort zones. As Matthew calls it, this is type 2 fun - the kind that you only call fun after, not during the activity.

So far our impression of Arkansas is crooked and steep. There are many winding roads. The one we took to get to our second campsite is called the tail of the dragon. We went to Sam’s Throne next, about 30 min South of where we were. The next few days were quite cold, only 30-40‘s. We spent the first day at the campsite working some more on projects and trying to stay warm. I bucked a downed tree for campfire. It was an effective way to keep warm. We also did a short workout at the campsite.
view from Sam's throne
The second day we did a hike around Sam’s Throne to scope out some rock climbing spots. This place has over 100 possible climbs. The rock is beautiful sandstone, with several colors in the rock, some orange, black, green and reds in various combinations. We got very excited. Although it was cold, a lot of the rock is facing the sun and it was warm enough to climb. The next day the weather was going to be similar so we planned to climb. That didn’t happen. It was too cold, just barely got above freezing and cloudy most of the day. Instead the day consisted of keeping a nice warm fire going, drinking lots of tea and typing on our computers (me writing, he programming).
 waiting to rappel down, to hike to the rocks in the left of the photo
 Matthew rappelling down one of the climbs
Hiking back to camp with the sun setting and moon out

The following day (yesterday) was gorgeous! It was a clear, sunny, 65 degree day. It was rock climbing day. After months of not climbing we just wanted to climb all day long. We kept it simple with only doing toprope climbs. It was a glorious day of climbing until the sun was setting. The quality of climbing is amazing. The rock is beautiful, there are a large variety of climbs and it has huge jugs that make it really easy... at least the routes we were doing. We saw a few routes that are way out of our level, forget about forearm strength, I would need serious tip of the finger strength to do those.

Ok, that's all for now. I've been on the computer for entirely too long today and we need to get food. I hope all you lovely readers are doing well.