One of the intents behind my blog is to make sure I impart how important it is to be out in nature as a part of a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve read any of my other entries lately, you will know I’ve been looking for a job since early March. It is not easy! I have been applying my butt off, and I have two degrees (that I worked hard for) and tons of experience, but I am having trouble even getting an interview. If you are lucky enough to have never lost your job, which has never happened to me prior to 2017, then it is actually hard to imagine just how difficult it can be. I know I wasn’t expecting it to be this hard. I was in kind of a dark place recently, mood-wise, which is VERY abnormal for me. I am usually pretty friendly, optimistic, and outgoing. But lately I have not been able to pull myself out of this funk. It’s like drowning in quicksand. Nothing makes you feel better. Having no purpose or prospects, worrying about finances, constant rejection or being ignored when you reach out to employers and hiring managers, and simply being alone most of the day to wallow in your worries and fears = a recipe for serious depression and anxiety. And my coping mechanism has been to bottle it up, because I don’t want to bring others down with me. I guess I just felt like other people don’t deserve to be burdened my bad juju. In retrospect, I probably should have opened up more about it, however at the time I found that to be hard to do. BUT, things have been slowly looking up lately and I’m now occupied with other certain opportunities (that will be a subject for another blog), so I am feeling much better. Honestly though, having never felt that way before, and feeling so helpless to do anything about it, actually really scared me for a minute.
And so it was right around this time, after feeling this way for a couple of weeks (maybe more… I lost track), that my husband and I planned a trip to the mountains. I strongly feel this trip was the beginning of pulling me out of the quicksand, and I sincerely felt so much better after spending some time in the woods with the man I love, exploring nature and being awestruck by all the natural beauty around me. I needed this. I needed to smell the fresh air, feel the rocks and the trees, and hear the woosh of waterfalls. Even while hiking I was still somewhat depressed (again, very abnormal for me), but being out there and away from the worries of home allowed me to open up a bit and verbalize my fears and stresses, which helped. By the time we got back I was on the upswing, emotionally and mentally, and the physical activity made me feel more alive; less like I was drowning. Endorphins from the kayaking and hiking helped tremendously, I have no doubt. I cannot stress enough the need to GO OUTSIDE. We are hardwired to thrive in nature. Don’t deprive yourself of this crucial puzzle piece to your mental and physical well being! Get your kids and families and your self out in nature regularly. It’s truly medicine for the body & soul.
So, here’s a little summary of where we went and what we did if anyone wants to check these places out sometime. It was super fun! Typically, we try to get to the mountains in the Spring and the Fall. Last year we went around the same time for my husband’s birthday (in April), and it was then that he proposed to me at the base of Crabtree Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway after seven years together. This was the icing on the cake after an awesome weekend visiting the Biltmore Estate, kayaking down the French Broad River, and eating at amazing local restaurants in Asheville.
This time we went to the Boone area. While we did stay in Boone, we also went to Blowing Rock and went to Linville, NC. On the way there, we stopped at Stone Mountain State Park in Roaring Gap. This place was AMAZING! It’s a huge granite dome with 18 miles of trails and 20 miles of trout waters (which are beautiful, crystal clear creeks and rivers). The main dome is 600 feet tall, and many climbers come here to climb up the gently sloping dome face. We were only there for a couple of hours since we were stopping on our way through and still had about an hour and a half to go before we got to Boone. In that time we were able to hike down to Stone Mountain Falls. There is a Middle Falls trail and a Lower Falls trail. We only did the Middle Falls trail since we were pressed for time and wanted to check out the trails on the huge granite dome. The falls trail was gorgeous. You walk through the woods and follow the sound of the water until you get to a chute of water flowing out of the woods and down a slick looking granite face. The Middle Falls terminates in a cool pool with trees and boulders you can climb on, and is very dog and kid friendly. About 1/3 of the way down there are some stairs that lead to the base of the falls, so it’s extremely easy. No climbing over rocks or anything. Here are a few pics and a little video from the Middle Falls trail.
After we climbed back up the stairs, we headed over to the Stone Mountain Loop trail. We didn’t do the whole loop because A) it was too long and we were on a schedule, and B) part of the loop had been burned so it was inaccessible and therefore not a “loop” at this time. It was only about half a mile in / out, and although a little steep at first, especially after climbing all those stairs up from the falls, it leveled out fairly quickly and was extremely easy for the majority of the time. There were plenty of kids and dogs on this trail also. Once you get to the top of the dome, the views are spectacular. The dome itself is incredibly impressive, and seems to go on forever. It makes you feel pretty small! Although they won’t do it even remotely close to justice, here are some pics of our adventures exploring the dome of Stone Mountain. We didn’t want to leave because it was just so gorgeous and peaceful…
Finally, after we went back to the parking lot we continued down the road through the park in our car. On the way out we found a couple little surprises including a small fairy-land oasis of a trout stream, some curious deer, and another waterfall trail for Widow’s Falls. As we made our way on to Boone down some country road with no intersections in the dark that never seemed to end, we saw a gorgeous sunset! When we FINALLY reached a main road again, we were relieved because we needed gas big time and also I swear I started to hear banjo music in the background… 😉
The next day we had reservations to kayak down the New River. We booked the trip via Wahoo’s Adventures, which I highly recommend. They are so nice, professional, and courteous. Also they have a nice facility on the river where you meet them and they load up your rented kayak or canoe, and drive you from this spot to the put in area. It’s a log cabin with bathrooms and a hot shower for afterwards if you need it. They also let you have extra time on the river, up to another hour free of charge, if you get back to the cabin and want more time. A word of warning is to make sure to follow the directions to the cabin up on the river, and not just put their name in your GPS because this will take you to their business office in Boone instead. Not that I did that or anything… Ahem. Anyway, we had an AWESOME time on the New River. The New River is thought to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, and actually has a northward flow! Pretty cool, huh? It was the first weekend of the season and the water level was low, so much of the time it was quite shallow which meant we got stuck on a few rocks here and there. But otherwise it was superb! There are parts of the forest and riverbanks you can see only from floating down the river. We brought some sandwiches for lunch and bottles of water, and pulled over on a little sandy beach to eat. We saw tons of wildlife, and paddled past a few farms with cows and horses. At one point a few horses were right next next to the river up on an embankment looking down at us and watching us float by with curiosity. I paddled right up to them! Unfortunately I only have a couple of pics to share from the parking area in front of the log cabin because I didn’t want to lose my phone in the river (a teenage boy in another family in our group did exactly that, btw). We paddled for 12 miles, which took us just under 4 hours. This was definitely the highlight of our trip, and I would highly recommend that you do this! If you have never kayaked before, maybe start with a canoe and do the 1 hour trip instead, otherwise you may not have as much fun. Some experience is necessary!
After an awesome dinner in downtown Boone at Vidalia, the next day we drove to Linville Falls. But, before we ventured to those trails, we made a detour and went to Linville Caverns. If you have never been to Linville Caverns, you MUST make it a point to go sometime! It was just crazy cool. There is so much history there. From Confederate soldiers holing up and hiding out inside, to boys getting lost in there, to the discovery of new elements and animals, there are so many interesting stories attached to this hidden place in the mountain. It also has animals found no where else in the world, including a certain kind of cave trout, and bats. I heart BATS! Sadly, there weren’t any bats in there when we went because they were migrating and living somewhere else at the time, but it would have been cool to see some! And the beauty of the caves themselves is just indescribable. I love geology though, it’s like history you can touch. But don’t touch the walls inside the cave. There is a precariously balanced system of little organisms, like algae, that can be destroyed if you touch… but you know what I mean. You can literally see the layers of time in the rock formations. Crazy. Here are some pics from the incredible caverns, the river that flows out of it, and some crazy stalactites and stalagmites, and other limestone formations. PS, it is chilly in there and you will get droplets of water on you. Just an FYI!
After the caverns, we made a short drive to the Linville Falls. On the way we stopped at a little overlook area of the river, and Tim taught me how to skip rocks! I’d never gotten the hang of it until the ripe age of 35, lol. Once we got to the falls, we did a couple of trails here. One was to the “Overlook”, and the other was to the base of the falls. The view from the Overlook trail is amazing. You can see the falls and also the surrounding Linville Gorge, and the hike is not long and pretty easy. There is another trail that isn’t so bad to a spot called the Chimney. This is actually the first place my husband and I went hiking on our first trip together almost a decade ago! We went up to the Chimney then so we didn’t do that trail this time, but from what I remember it’s moderate with spectacular views from the opposite side of the gorge from the Overlook, and a little higher up. The trail to the base of the falls is only 0.5 miles. DO NOT LET THIS DECEIVE YOU! It is a STRENUOUS hike over boulders and down some steep terrain, which you must go back up. However, to be honest getting back up was easier and felt shorter than going down. You need proper footwear and water. Do not wear flip flops or something like that (yes, I saw people wearing those… on a hike…). That being said, it is worth the effort 10 times over when you get to the bottom. You can swim in the pools at the base of the falls, and you are surrounded by huge cliff walls with giant, cavernous cracks in them and trees growing inside, birds flying over head, a nice perpetual cool breeze from the falls themselves, tons of nice boulders to lay on, take a nap, or have a picnic, and the most spectacular view of the falls there is. By the way, Linville Falls is a true, huge double waterfall, and you can really feel it’s power from the bottom. Here are some pics and a couple of quick videos of the serene spot where I learned to skip a rock and, of course, the falls that, again, don’t come anywhere near doing this magical place justice.
On our last day, we went to Blowing Rock, as I mentioned in the start of this blog entry. We had been there before but it was a foggy day and we couldn’t see anything! So we decided to go back. Blowing Rock is a quaint little town and is nestled up in the mountain tops with some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. First we went back to The Blowing Rock, the actual rock from which the town gets its name, and accompanying museum and little preserve, which is all privately owned. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and only $2 for kids up to 11 years old (under 3 years old is free admission). It’s super cute with little gardens and paths, and a big octagonal viewing platform that juts out over the cliffs of rock. If you visit the Boone area, it’s worth the short drive to Blowing Rock to see the little downtown B&B’s, check out The Blowing Rock, and take in the views. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway that afternoon and stopped to hike on a few trails. We were looking for an old trail we hiked before but we could’t find it, although we did find one with a great view of some mountains off in the distance and a valley below right when the sun was starting to set. Sitting here I took in the views and felt all my stress melt away. I tried to savor the moment and stay in it as long as I could, smelling the fresh air and feeling the age of the ancient rock beneath me, enjoying the company of my favorite person, and watching the orange and red glow of the setting sun peek between the shifting storm clouds in the distance.
On the drive home we stopped at one more spot, an access point to another stretch of the New River with great camping sites for kayakers traversing the 360 million year old body of water. As soon as I can get a job, we’ll be getting kayaks and coming back to this place! After a little walk here and checking out the ruins of an old homestead of early settlers, we took some back roads home back to real life. To say I needed this trip was an understatement, but I am so glad we took the time to do it.
Let me know if you have ever been or decide to go visit any of these places in the comments! I’d love to hear about your experiences too!
Here are a few pics of Blowing Rock and the Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trail.
Peace and love, and GO OUTSIDE! 🙂