North Shore 2018

We finally made it to the north shore when there nice fall colors! After years and years of trying we discovered the north shore does in fact have beautiful fall colors. Who knew?

Minnesota does not have gentle fall weather. It’s usually quite windy, often rainy, and sometimes snowy. More often than not, the leaves are ripped from the trees well before the beautiful fall colors can be displayed. For some reason, this year was different and we were able to see it. The colors seemed to stretch for miles and were quite lovely; our touring around reminded us of our time last year in the Smoky Mountains NP area.

Fall on the north shore starts a bit sooner so we still have a couple more weeks in the twin cities area before we get our peak fall colors. It’s nice getting two falls :).

Enjoy the photos!

Colorado Hiking 2018

This year’s hiking in Colorado was amazing.

My brother and I hiked to Black Lake in Rocky Mountain NP and even spent a bit of time hiking up past the lake. We had perfect weather and it was wonderful. This year, unlike all other years, I brought Jac along and we hiked to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain NP and Lake Isabella in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Both lakes had perfectly still weather and we had mirror reflections in the lake, we even caught some mountain flowers. It was incredible.

Like all other years, we woke up super early in Denver and reached the trailhead just before 6AM. Unlike other years, we were a bit surprised to see a handful of other people at the trailhead. Normally, we wake up so early and reach the trailhead so early we don’t really see anyone until we start our return. For whatever reason, there were a bunch of people on the trail this year. It wasn’t a problem though, once we started on our way we pretty much had the mountains to ourselves.

It was a wonderful time with my brother’s family and it was super fun to show Jac the mountains. 100% good time trip :).

 

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Three years home.

Three year home. It’s hard to believe.

Time flies.

A bit over four years ago Jac and I decided to pack up and leave the US without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. At that point in our lives neither Jac nor I had really traveled internationally, knew zero additional languages besides English, and had a very different understanding of the world at large. Instead of finding danger, confusion, and adversity during our travels we found friendliness, similarities, beauty, and differing ways of living life while still only knowing English. To date, it’s still likely the most risky and most rewarding decision we’ve ever made.

The last two years since my one year anniversary update haven’t been all that different. We were both fortunate to land at jobs where we are treated very well by our respective companies and managers, we go to work, come home, have fun when it’s not work, and make time for travel. One of the bigger differences has to be the home we purchased; we’re actually laying down roots, we’re part of a community, and we’ve turned about 1/3 of our backyard into a garden so we regularly have produce coming out of our ears.

We continually try to get an international flavor by attending local cultural festivals / events whenever possible. It’s not all that hard considering the twin cities has a rather large immigrant population from all over the world so it seems like there are always events to attend or places to visit like the Festival of Nations, Polish Festival, and Hmongtown. Jac and I enjoy attending these events since it gives us a helpful remembrance of our travels.

We reminisce often and chat frequently about a ’round 2′ trip. As time passes our memories of our experiences during our travels become less sharp and harder to recall while our desire to see strange new parts of the world increases. I vividly remember returning to the US with zero desire to ever be in a plane again and now we’re both interested in immersing ourselves into far flung places with new smells, new sites, and new voices. Since we still don’t have a strong desire to grow our careers at the expense of our time, our conversations about our future often drift towards travel and obtaining shared experiences in a new parts of the world.

We were very lucky with our home purchase. We wanted a home that was in the middle of the cities with good access to the interstates so we could have more work options. We found a home that fit our desires for location, layout, and size, in a very small tier one suburb. We originally thought the house was in a neighborhood of St. Paul or Minneapolis and we didn’t realize until after we had placed an offer on the home that the home is in a tiny suburb with it’s own highly rated school district, police force, and local government. So, we actually live in a very small town in the heart of a major metropolitan area and it’s by far the smallest town I’ve ever lived in as an adult. The town truly has a small town feel and has all the small town shenanigans that go with it. I sometimes forget there two cities that touch our suburb that represent the 18th largest city in the nation and we’re part of the 16th largest metropolitan statistical area. Kinda weird.

We’ve traveled quite a bit since our world trip but we’ve chosen to stay in North America for a variety of reasons. We’ve been some incredible places: the Eastern Sierra’s in California, the Canadian Rockies, the Smoky Mountains, and the American southwest. We were lucky to find some new hikes that easily landed on our top hikes of all time:

  • the Gem Lakes / Mono Pass trail in the Eastern Sierras – incredible beauty
  • Eiffel Lake trail behind Moraine Lake in Canada – stunningly gorgeous with very few hikers with only one terrifying run-in with a bear
  • the Golden Wall trail at Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon Nation Park – a hidden gem with no other hikers with incredible scenery

During our travels we’ve also ran into some amazing seasonal, chance, or calendar events:

  • Canada Day on July 1st in Jasper was amazing
  • The Big Bay Boom in San Diego on July 4th was incredible
  • stunning fall colors at Smoky Mountains National Park
  • a desolate and serene bike ride through Zion Canyon
  • Spring bloom of field flowers in rural Texas
  • Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day in DC
  • Lava flow in Hawaii

It appears as though the pattern of Really Bad Things happening to people areas as we’re visiting or shortly after we visited has ended. I wrote about our luck in the post “End to Nomadic Life” where places we visited had horrible, horrible things happen to people around us, like:

  • the banks in Greece shutting down the day after we arrived in Greece – we were unaffected because foreigners were exempt from capital controls,
  • a human stampede in Shanghai occurring a block away from us on the Bund where 36 people died – we were safe because we were on a deck up on the fourth or fifth floor of our building, and
  • bad weather causing an avalanche killing quite a few hikers and guides while we were trekking – we were safe because we were in a valley over while we were trekking in Nepal.

The trend of Really Bad Things continued for a bit:

  • we pulled over while driving highway 1 in California to watch a small brush fire since Jac has ever seen a forest fire. Later we learned the fire turned into the Soberanes Fire where highways were closed for quite some time and people died,
  • we jumped a barrier on the Big Island to watch lava flow into the ocean and had a great time only to learn people were sent to the hospital a few hours later to recover from toxic air and shards of glass called “Pele’s Hair” falling from the sky due to a wind change,
  • part of Canada shut down shortly after we drove thru on our way between Banff and Vancouver due to fires,
  • and that’s about it that I can think of!

We’ve traveled to enough places without incident that I feel comfortable saying we’ve broken the trend. Our travels for about the last couple of years to the Smoky Mountains, Colorado, the American Southwest, Chicago, and San Diego have resulted in no mass injury or damage to the areas. A fresh breath of air :).

I decided to add a few photos to this post; just a handful of favorites from the last couple of years.

Enjoy the photos :).

Chris W.

San Diego 2018

I think it’s impossible to not love San Diego. Perfect weather, great food, wonderful sights, friendly people, and loads of sunshine.

The trip was off to a great start when we flew over the national parks we visits in the spring – Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, etc. The parks were impressive enough from the ground so having the opportunity to see the parks from the air was nothing short of amazing.

Then, things became better.

Jac has family in San Diego, who are always wonderful to visit, and they happen to live near the beach. A short walk brought us to great restaurants, wonderful beaches, and extremely interesting people. We took advantage of our time in San Diego to get food that is hard to get in Minnesota – good classic donuts, Asian foods, NY style pizza from Bronx Pizza, and some great vegetarian food. I had something I’d never heard of: nitrogen charged coffee. I loved the coffee. It tastes a lot like a Guinness and since I don’t drink anymore it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a beer since drinking beer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as though this coffee related innovation has made it to Minnesota so I’ll have to deal :/.

We were in San Diego during the July 4th holiday so we had a chance to see the Big Bay Boom fireworks. We had an absolutely incredible view of the fireworks because I found a random stranger willing to let us use her deck overlooking the bay. I had spent quite a bit of time looking for a good view of the fireworks and continually struggled to find a viewing location not overrun by people. The fireworks show is one of the largest in the nation and attracts people from all over the country so it was no surprise I had a hard time. In desperation I decided to use Google Maps / Google Earth and Airbnb to find an Airbnb host with an unobstructed view of the bay. I sent out a few requests and we were lucky a woman agreed to let us use her deck. She was so kind, asked for nothing in return, and had a $5mil view of the bay. We saw the best fireworks we’ve ever seen and is easily one of the greatest experiences we’ve ever had. 

I miss traveling greatly, especially visiting lesser developed areas of the world. I feel an energy in open-air markets and communal gathering spots that is missing in developed countries. I thought it’d be great to visit Tijuana since we were close and had heard good stories. We decided to hire a tour guide since we had never been to Tijuana and don’t speak Spanish. We were completely surprised – we had great food, had a great time, and our tour guide was fantastic. Our guide was about our age, grew up in San Diego, went to college in San Diego for a liberal arts degree, and decided to move to Tijuana for better opportunities. Instead of entering the rat race for low wage type jobs for generic liberal arts degrees in the US he decided to start a walking tour business in Tijuana. Rent is cheap, food is incredibly cheap, and tourists are happy to pay $100 day in and day out for walking tours. While $100ish/day is nowhere near a livable wage in the San Diego area it is a phenomenal wage in Tijuana.

I’m an early riser and California is two hours behind central time so I was a really early riser. I found great enjoyment in drinking a pot and half of coffee while staring at that ocean and watching the world wake up. As others in the house woke up I further found great conversation and company. Complete relaxation.

San Diego-ians complain a lot about the “sunshine tax” with the high cost of living in the area. Wages for engineers in the area aren’t a whole lot different than wages in Minnesota but housing is way, way, way, way, WAY, more expensive. A one bedroom one bathroom apartment in San Diego is about the same, if not more, than what we pay for our entire mortgage, interest, insurance, and property taxes for a three bedroom, two bathroom, 2,000sqft house in a desirable neighborhood of the twin cities. Folks kept on telling us that we were lucky to live in a place with cheaper housing but I was quite to point out that they have a “sunshine tax” and we have a “quality of life” tax because going outdoors five months out of the year hurts our face due to the cold. No wonder things are cheaper here, why would anyone sane move here?

All-in-all, a wonderful trip. We had a great time and enjoyed every moment. Hard not to love San Diego :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

San Diego Big Bay Boom 2018

The San Diego Big Bay Boom 4th of July celebration was unlike anything we’ve seen before. We love fireworks, we’ve been to a lot of fireworks shows across the world, we actively seek out fireworks shows, and we’re really happy we had a chance to experience the San Diego Big Bay Boom.

We were extremely, extremely, fortunate to get help from a stranger; we came across an individual willing to share their amazing and unobstructed view of San Diego Bay just so we could see the incredible fireworks show in all of the show’s glory. Had we not received help from the stranger I’m sure our experience would have been severely diminished. 

The fireworks show is large, four barges fire off fireworks for 18min across the bay and are synchronized with music. We were close enough to the fireworks to feel the ‘thud’ and hear the ricochet of explosions around the bay. There was an immense amount of fireworks used on the four barges during 18 minutes show and it was a visual delight. The backdrop of the San Diego skyline and the reflections on the water made the show all that much better. The Big Bay Boom is probably the best fireworks show we’ve ever been seen.

This fireworks show is up there with our incredible, yet random, fireworks experience in Quebec City and Happy Valley Racetrack in Hong Kong. For the Quebec firework show our Airbnb host asked us if we wanted to ‘see some fireworks’ and brought us to a cliffside overlook of one barge in the St. Lawrence Seaway firing fireworks for 25 minutes. To date, that firework show was the longest show we’ve even been to and had some beautiful displays during the 25 minutes. The second incredible fireworks experience occurred at a horse race track in Happy Valley Hong Kong. With tall buildings looming around the track we were surprised to witness a fireworks show in between races. We were standing near the horse track and it seemed like the fireworks were exploding right next to us. While nowhere near as long as the Big Bay Boom or the Quebec City fireworks show, the experience was amazing simply because it was so close.

The Big Bay Boom was truly astonishing. We’re so happy we had a chance to see the show unadulterated from a perfect viewpoint.

Enjoy the photos 🙂

Chris W.

American Southwest 2018

We had a wonderful two week trip through the American Southwest and saw some incredible scenery. The American Southwest is one of the last areas we’ve wanted to visit in the US since we’re not big into red rocks or desert so we’ve held off visiting the area until now. After our visit, I’ve changed my opinion a lot and look forward to visiting again, hopefully soon!

We drove a giant circle across Arizona and Utah visiting a ton of parks along the way (Petrified Forest NP, Canyon de Chelly NM, Monument Valley, Goosenecks SP, Arches NP, Deadhorse SP, Capitol Reef NP, Grand Staircase Escalante NM, Kodachrome SP, Bryce Canyon NP, Cedar Breaks NM, Zion NP, Grand Canyon NP) seeing incredible sights, eating incredible food, and enjoying spectacular weather.

It’s hard to describe the enormity of the sights. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is the perfect example – it’s a national monument / natural feature that has grand mesas and incredible 1,500ft monoclines climbing stepwise nearly 7,000ft over many miles. The Grand Canyon is just that – grand, and the other national / state parks we visited were equally enormous. The slot canyons, hodooos, mesas, buttes, monuments, ruins, petroglyphs, arches, mountain peaks, desert valleys, goosenecks, orchards, and crystal clear night skies were all incredible. No photo is capable of capturing the sheer size and beauty of the area. I tried, I really did, but I know the photos I took are not representative of the area and fail to portray the area accurately. The area is one of those places a person has to see in person.

The national parks were busy. Very busy. To cope, we did one of two things: we either altered our schedule to minimize the number of people we’d be around or we’d figure out alternate paths / alternate activities. As an example of altering our schedule: we chose to do a lot of early morning hiking. Seeing sunrise on Peek-a-boo trail in Bryce Canyon was an experience I can’t describe and is easily one of the best moments in hiking I’ve ever had. We started hiking when it was still rather dark and had hiked in solitude for about 45min in the dark / shade of the hoodoos before we rounded a corner to see a very large valley filled with vibrantly lit hoodoos from the early morning sun. The colors were amazing and the full body experience was exacerbated by the early morning stillness, early morning animals, and early morning smells. It was stunning. As we finished up our hike we saw humanity pouring into the canyon and it was loud. Screaming, yelling, music playing, and selfie taking made it a bit harder to enjoy the trail. I’m confident we would have greatly disliked hiking in Bryce if we would have hiked at a normal human time simply because the crush of humanity would also be enjoying the trails. Renting bicycles and riding around the canyon floor in Zion NP is the other example of finding alternate activities. Humanity is overrunning Zion – people, people, people everywhere so the national park service runs shuttles to minimize traffic in the canyon. I know there is about a 0% chance I’d cram myself into a tourist shuttle so I looked for alternate activities and found we could rent bicycles and bike wherever we wanted; sounded like a great alternative! Not only was it a great alternative, it’s one of the coolest things we’ve ever done! It felt like we had the canyon to ourselves! Since there was very little traffic we could bike wherever we wanted, it was super quiet, and it was stunningly beautiful. It was surreal knowing that there were a ton of people in Zion NP but that they were relegated to shuttles and wherever they decided to get off the shuttle. Had we not rented bikes I’m pretty sure we would have hated Zion since there were so many people.

Outside the national parks, the solitude was incredible. There were vast expanses where we didn’t see other vehicles or other people, didn’t see planes overhead, had zero cellphone signal, and didn’t hear or smell anything other than nature. For example: Red Canyon right next to Bryce Canyon NP. It’s not even a park but part of national forest surrounding Bryce NP. There are quite a few trails in the area so we decided to hike the area. We hiked in the middle of the day and chose a more popular trail, the Golden Wall trail. We didn’t see a single person, we didn’t hear any sounds of humanity, and only enjoyed nature. The sights were really similar to Bryce Canyon but no-one was around. The hike is one of the better hikes we’ve ever done in our entire lives.

We were chatting with the National Forest Service volunteer at the Red Canyon visitor center and she mentioned Highway 12 is “the second most beautiful drive in the world”. Highway 12 runs between Moab and Bryce Canyon NP and goes through Grand Staircase NM, Capitol Reef NP, and a lo of beautiful areas. We had driven on Highway 12 and thought it was quite pretty so we were a bit surprised to hear it’s the second most beautiful drive in the world. I asked her what the first most beautiful drive was and she said “Milford Sound in New Zealand”. Fortunately for us, we had driven that road when we could compare. I think Highway 12 in Utah was more beautiful only because we didn’t really like New Zealand :/. It’s interesting to think that Milford Sound is internationally known yet I had never heard of Highway 12 in Utah.

Speaking of national parks and national forests – I continually re-learn that there is a major difference in crowds visiting national parks and national forests. We’ve hiked, a lot, all over the country and I noticed a while back that the folks visiting national parks seemed to be more like city dwellers who wanted to see nature and have access to amenities like shops, rangers, informational walks, etc., and people who visited national forests for hiking seemed to be the type of people who, in general, want to enjoy hiking far away from others. It’s awesome people want to visit national parks; there’s literally nothing else like the US national park system we’ve seen in all of our travels. It’s truly a unique gem all Americans should take advantage of when possible.

This is the first year I’ve noticed something different about the crowds in the parks and other areas we were visiting. While extremely anecdotal, it seems as though the improving economy has brought a different part of society to the parks. Jac and I started visiting national parks in 2008 and witnessed firsthand the utter destruction the Great Recession had on the tourist areas around the parks starting in 2009. Seeing boarded up hotels, closed restaurants, and shut down tourist attractions was common place. This year I noticed far fewer shuttered businesses and noticed the parks were attracting families / individuals who looked different than the typical national park tourist and may have been a lower socio-economic class. It was exciting to see the folks – the recession was awful and disproportionately awful to the lower socio-economic classes so it’s my hope my observations mean the recovery has worked its way to all classes of society. If my observation is true then the recovery sure took its sweet time. 

We were surprised to find out the area has a lot of homemade pie options. It seemed as though every local restaurant we visited offered some sort of homemade pie ranging from the classic apple, peach, etc., to the more adventurous mountain berry and summer fruits mix. This all started at Capitol Reef National Park. I had read that one of the gift shops sold homemade pie inside the park – which I thought was very strange. I had read that tourists needed to show up a bit early to make sure they were able to get pie, even in March / April, since they tended to sell out. First, I don’t recall homemade items ever really being sold inside a national park. Second, Capitol Reef NP is in the middle of nowhere, seriously, look at a map of the US to find a big city in the area and then look at a population density map, there’s nearly nothing in the area. So, we set off early from Moab and arrived in Capitol Reef NP a bit after 10ish or so. We found they were selling small personal pies in the park so bought one pie as a test quickly discovering we needed seven more. From there on out, I think we had pie with every meal and pie at night before we went to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much pie!

Without planning, it seems our timing was right for a lot of things:

  • we weren’t snowed on, at all, unlike what happened to individuals we know who traveled the area a couple weeks before us,
  • the Milky Way was out in the early morning and we ended getting some great Milky Way photos,
  • our driver for the Monument Valley sunrise tour happened to know an incredible amount about photography and taught me a massive amount about night photography in about half of an hour,
  • the fruit trees in Capitol Reef NP were in bloom and it was beautiful,
  • the road to Cedar Breaks NM just opened for the year while we were in the area and the sunset we watched in solitude was incredible,
  • our gravel / dirt road driving went without a hitch since it hadn’t rained in some time and everything is solid,
  • we were able to get a tour of the Glen Canyon dam,

Despite having grown up in an arid climate I had forgotten how bad static electricity can get. I live in Minnesota now, rarely do I ever build up enough static electricity to shock myself or anyone else. Being high in the mountains and in the arid climate reminded me so much where I grew up; it only took a couple of days to get the metal touching habit back to top of mind so I could dissipate smaller amounts of static electricity frequently instead of getting a few doozies J.

Lastly, the food was great; not just the desserts, real food too. We had some extremely delicious Mexican food and it was awesome to get Indian tacos again. I had Indian tacos a lot in school growing up and I’ve come to find most folks in Minnesota have no idea what an Indian taco is or where to get one. One of the best meals we had was an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet in Moab after a long day hiking around Arches NP; we made out like bandits on that deal.

Overall, this trip went well above our expectations. I can’t wait to go back!

Enjoy the photos –

Chris W.

Short album:

 

Long album:

South Carolina Spring 2018

I was sent to South Carolina for work only to be quite a bit surprised at what I learned – South Carolina is a very strange place:

  1. there is a very weird attachment to the confederacy,
  2. the civil war is described as a war between the “Federalists” and the confederates,
  3. locals told me the Columbia area is known as the “armpit of the south” due to how humid and hot it gets,
  4. the magnolia trees are incredible – some fully in bloom and 30ft tall, and,
  5. the poverty is very apparent, pervasive and manifests itself in subtle ways,
  6. it appears as though there is a very bimodal distribution of wealth.

We spent a bit of time driving around the countryside and seeing a confederate paraphernalia wasn’t uncommon. What was strange was seeing Sons of the Confederacy #842 implying there are at least 841 other Sons of the Confederacy establishments. I had never heard of the Sons of the Confederacy so I learned what Sons of Confederacy stood for and promoted which, unfortunately, didn’t clear much up for me. America loves winners. It’s in our blood. Yet, there’s a group of people who cling to the past glorifying a bunch of losers who lost fighting trying to defend their horrific and awful values and morals. We lived on a east coast and we’ve traveled around the east coast quite a bit so we read a lot of roadside historical markers and visited other historical sites but South Carolina is the first place I can recall reading about the “Federalists”. I think this is a purpose obfuscated to change the narrative to States Rights fighting a supreme federal government instead of the Union, preserving the union, fighting against a bunch of renegades who want to enslave people. It’s sad.

It was a bit warm and humid driving around South Carolina but I told we weren’t close to experiencing the worst of the weather. I felt quite fortunate the weather was a nice (?) as it was because it already felt like I was wearing a hot shower.

Everything was neon green, just lush, but the 30ft Southern Magnolia trees were a shock. The flowers the size of a small dinner plate and the trees were covered with the flowers. Lots of other plants were in bloom but the Southern Magnolia stole the day – by far. We have magnolias here in Minnesota but nothing 30ft tall!

Rural South Carolina is a bipolar arrangement of abject poverty and well off communities. It wasn’t uncommon to see well-off gated communities near run down clusters of homes. The typical big box stores could be seen in the outskirts of reasonably large communities but the dowtowns were almost always boarded shut or vacant. It was depressing.

I noticed another strange manifestation of the poverty and bifurcated socioeconomic classes when it came to picking restaurants based on Google Reviews. Low cost quick serve restaurants, like Little Ceasers, could easily get 4.2+ stars with hundreds of reviews while high-end steakhouses would score in the 3 star range with hundreds of reviews. Now, while I don’t much for meat anymore, I do remember how a high-end steak tastes and I’m confident all the steak I’ve ever had is better than all the Little Ceasers I’ve ever had, no contest. We visited a steakhouse with 3.8 stars and my colleague had a very large steak so I asked him if the steak was better than all the Little Ceasers he’s ever had, after a chuckle he said, “well, yeah, it’s steak”. The only reasonable theory I have as to why this situation exists is because there’s a bimodal distribution of wealth so different groups go to different restaurants with little overlap: lower socioeconomic classes go to Little Ceasers and well-off folks go to steakhouses.

Socioeconomic divides are everywhere in America, South Carolina isn’t unique. What is unique is how the divide plays out and the apparent valley between the poor and well-to-do.

So, in general, South Carolina is a weird place.

Enjoy the photos –

Chris W.

Texas Spring 2018

My work sent me to Texas at the right time of year – the spring wildflowers were in bloom! It was amazing to see fields and fields of flowers. I had no idea spring bloom was a thing in rural Texas and it was serendipitous I was in the region at the right time. In many ways it felt like all the different places we’ve been in the world at the right time to see once-in-a-year or rare events – like cherry blossoms in Japan and Washington DC, fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, Canada Day in Jasper, being in Alaska for the once nice week of beautiful sunny weather, visiting Romania when elderberries are in bloom so we could drink elderberry lemonade, International Fireworks Competition in Quebec City, the banks being shut down in Greece, being in Hawaii for the Jacarandas in bloom and the lava in flow, and so on. It was really special to see the bloom!

Rural Texas is a strange place. It’s flat, generally not interesting, kinda run down, but there are surprises. From amazing food located in the middle of nowhere to interesting archeological sites, Texas seems to have something for everyone. There’s a new-ish national monument in Waco dedicated to the Columbian Mammoths. We had a bit of downtime so a colleague and I went to the site – it was pretty interesting!

All in all, it was a good trip.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

The Cold North 2017 / 2018

So I realized I haven’t put anything on the website since our trip to the Smoky Mountains. Looking back on my previous posts I think there is a clear trend: we hibernate in the winter so the likelihood of taking outdoor photographs plummets precipitously. Makes sense; the cold air in Minnesota often times hurts my face so why go outside?

Winter is awful in Minnesota. It boggles my mind people live in this climate voluntarily and even immigrate to and stay in twin cities regions from extremely warm regions like Eastern Africa, South East Asia, Latin America, and the Indian Sub-continent. 

Weather aside, somehow an interesting culture was built in the Twin Cities / Minnesota which fosters the development of businesses and happy people. Minnesota punches well above its weight in the number of Fortune 500 businesses, intellectual property development, cost of living adjusted wages, and general welfare / health. There is a pragmatic approach to just about everything here and so long as people can cut thru the Minnesota Nice and tolerate the weather it can end up being a pretty neat place to live. 

Maybe there’s something to staying indoors for five-ish months a year that makes people industrious and makes people thankful for the small things, like vitamin D. 

I have had a couple reprieves from the cold this winter. There were two visits to Chicago, which feels like a tropical paradise compared to Minnesota, and a visit to Denver for the holidays. 

It was neat to be back in Chicago for a bit and see familiar sights and smell familiar smells. I don’t particularly miss Chicago but there is an energy to Chicago not found in the twin cities.  One evening was even nice enough to make the seven mile walk on the Lake Front Trail from McCormick Place near the South Side to my hotel in the Gold Coast neighborhood. I was the only one who walked from the group and managed to beat my coworkers who were stuck in traffic. I’ve always enjoyed the walk so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to walk along Lake Michigan and weave my way thru downtown to my hotel and skipping the traffic was just the cherry on top. 

Of course the visit to Denver was awesome. Denver is a fabulous place and it’s great to see family. The weather was great and I even ended up with a slight sunburn.

Probably the last thing to note about Minnesota is a conundrum I’ve found: I lived in this state for a bit over 10 years without traffic violations or vehicle accidents. In the last four months I’ve had two people hit my car while driving around with my wife with the most recent occurring yesterday. What makes this especially weird is that I drive very little since my work is a bit over a mile from where we live and I don’t drive around very often with my wife. I’m not sure what clicked between departure and return to Minnesota but it’d make me happy if this trend discontinued. 

Enjoy the photos 🙂

Chris W.

Smoky Mountains 2017

The Smoky Mountains were spectacular. Of all our travels, of all the places we’ve been, of all the cool things we’ve seen, the Smoky Mountains in fall is up there with some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. I think the photos turned out well but really didn’t do the area the justice it deserves. Absolutely stunning.

Jac and I have never been big fans of the southern US so we’ve never traveled to the area. My work sent me to Tennessee so I figured I’d bring Jac along and we’d hit up the Smoky Mountains. We spent most of our time in small towns and were pleasantly surprised to a point where it didn’t really feel like we were in the US. For example:

  • Walking at my normal speed I found I was the one walking the fastest and it seemed like most everyone deferred to me and moved out of the way. It was weird to see people clearing out of my way while walking on sidewalks, thru doorways, and even in Dollar Generals. It was strange!
  • Being called ‘hon’ or seeing my wife called ‘sweetie’ by waitstaff was strange. That type of pleasantry would never be extended in Minnesota and would likely result in very cross-looks if it occurred.
  • The general niceness – I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot early in the morning and the person in the vehicle next to me greeted me and told me, ‘good morning’. Some random guy. Weird!
  • The food was fantastic. We had a chance to try some fantastic BBQ, wonderful cajun, and other local specialties. We had great NY style pizza from a pizzaria of a former New Yorker – it was awesome to say the least. Since I don’t really eat meat I was relegated to vegetarian options on the menus which usually contained an immense amount of cheese.
  • Things seemed to be cheaper. Whether it was admission prices, food prices, or general activity costs, it seemed to be cheaper in the Smoky Mountains versus elsewhere in our travels.
  • We’ve been on a lot of cave tours around the US and the world and there are universal rules: don’t touch stuff, don’t eat stuff, don’t drink stuff. That universal rule didn’t apply at Tuckalechee Caverns where the staff encouraged visitors to touch the formations, swim in the cave water, and even drink the cave water!
  • The LTE was the slowest LTE I’ve ever experienced – shockingly slow, unlike everywhere in the US.
  • The Smoky Mountains National Park takes the cake for worst labeling of features, trail heads, and other points of interest. I’ve never seen anything else like it at a national park in the US. Normally, park maps are very good, everything is marked out in the park, and it’s super easy to find stuff. Not so with the Smoky Mountains National Park!

I took a ton of photos during our visit. Our Airbnb had a great view over the park and we had some fantastic sunrises. There’s a ton of photos in the album and, like I said, the photos don’t do the park justice. It was incredible to be in and around the park during peak fall colors.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.