Tag Archives: North America

2015: My Year in Review

2015 was very much a monumental year for us. Not only did I take a new job that will ultimately get me where I want to go, but we also got to travel to so many new places, and see so much. Here are some of our highlights from this  year!

January
We started off our year with a bang when we went on a cruise with Mitchell’s family; our 7-day cruise visited Grand Turk, San Juan, Saint Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. A mere 2 days after the cruise, we packed up everything and drove halfway across the country to start a new life in North Carolina.

I didn't have high expectations for this beach, which is privately owned by the cruise company, but Half Moon Cay was one of the most beautiful beaches I've been to with sand so soft I swore it was powdered sugar!

I didn’t have high expectations for this beach, which is privately owned by the cruise company, but Half Moon Cay was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to with sand so soft I swore it was powdered sugar!

February
We spent most of February trying to get settled in North Carolina, and didn’t do a whole lot of traveling. We went to an over-crowded chocolate festival 40 minutes away and made our first trip (of many) to Wilmington. And, oddly enough, I don’t have many pictures of Wilmington despite our many trips there!

March
March brought our first visitors from Iowa, and we went to Myrtle Beach for the first time. We didn’t do a whole lot of touristy activities due to time, but we did explore the WonderWorks Museum, ate at a nice restaurant, and enjoyed our hotel’s hot tub. We learned the value of having a tourist destination so close to us, something we aren’t used to!

Beautiful Sunset at Myrtle Beach

April
Our love for gambling brought us on a spontaneous trip to the mountains in Cherokee, where the closest casino is; this is something completely new to us as we’re used to being within an hour of 3 casinos. On our way home from Cherokee, we briefly explored Asheville (didn’t love it) and took in the mountain views.

There's a good view around every turn in Cherokee

There’s a good view around every turn in Cherokee

May
May brought us our first 3-day weekend together; we obviously took advantage of this time and went to Gettysburg which was such a unique experience and travel destination. On the way home, we took a minor detour and hit up the casino in Baltimore. And even though this isn’t necessarily a travel experience, one of my favorite memories since moving here was in May; on my birthday, we rented a kayak and took it to a sandbar where we fished, found crabs, and drank beer all day.

Gettysburg

June
From about March to August, Mitchell was working 6 days a week with the only exception being Memorial Day weekend. We had to be creative in our travels, and I didn’t want to stretch Mitchell too thin. That means most of our weekends were spent at Topsail Beach, about 45 minutes away from our house. We made an exception one weekend when we took a ferry to Shackleford Banks where wild horses roam the small island!

Horses and a beach at the same time? Um, yes please!

Horses and a beach at the same time? Um, yes please!

July
We crossed off one of my Bucket List items in July by going to Washington, D.C. for the 4th of July. I have always wanted to see the fireworks at the National Mall ever since I saw them on TV as a kid. Even though the rain made it a much different experience than I had imagined, it was still incredible to cross off such a big thing from my bucket list. We also moved from our crappy apartment to a nice, big house!

Washington, D.C.

August
In August, we mostly enjoyed Mitchell working normal hours again and finished settling into our new house. We knew that September was going to be a busy travel month so we laid low other than a day trip to New Bern.

New Bern, North Carolina

September
Labor Day weekend was spent in the mountains. Of course I loved the mountains when we visited in April, but it was this trip that made me fall madly in love. We explored Bryson City and made plans to return when the leaves began to change. Two weeks after our mountain trip, my mom came to visit and together we tackled Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, and Topsail Island.

Charleston, South Carolina

October
October brought us back to the mountains for an incredible weekend. We explored a little more of the mountains than just the casino (only half joking), took a train ride, and just took time to enjoy ourselves. I’m not quite sure how we got so lucky, but the weekend we were there was the most perfect weekend for fall-color-viewing! We also checked out the North Carolina state fair! Iowa is known as being one of the best state fairs, so checking out a different one was a good experience, and it was so weird to be chilly at the state fair, since ours is in August!

North Carolina State Fair

November
November brought us a spontaneous trip to Washington, D.C. Let me tell you, spontaneous trips here bring you to much cooler places than what we are used to! And spontaneous trips are the best trips, especially when you can get away during non-tourist season (hello, cheap hotels and no lines!). We visited Mitchell’s family in Florida for Thanksgiving and had the best time there, too. They took us to the beach and we went boating every day. Also, this may be surprising, but we hit up the casino in Tampa on our way home.

Path to a Florida Beach!

December
It would only seem fitting that the year would end the same way it began – traveling halfway across the country. My mom got a new car and sold us her old one, so I flew home for the holidays then drove the car back to North Carolina. It was another check off the bucket list because I’ve always wanted to drive [halfway] across the country solo. Of course, I’d like to do it again and be able to take my time so that I can stop at all the places and do all the things! Before I flew home for the holidays, Mitchell and I took advantage of a huge Southwest sale, and spent our anniversary in Nashville. A post about Nashville is coming, but let’s just say that I did not have huge expectations but it ended up becoming one of my favorite vacation destinations to date.

Nashville, I love you so much!

Nashville, I love you so much!

That’s my year in a nutshell! My whole life, my grandma has said that time goes so fast, and the older you get, the faster time goes. She is so right because I honestly don’t know where 2015 went. I don’t know what 2016 will bring, but I have a feeling it is going to be the best year ever!

 

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Veteran’s Day

I woke up this morning thankful. I just admit that I was initially just thankful for a day off work to recharge. I do work for the Marine Corps, you know, so of course we get Veteran’s Day off. I laid in bed a little later than usual, checking social media where everyone was sharing pictures of their veterans that they love and are so proud of and it hit me how truly blessed I am.

Vietnam Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina

Vietnam Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina

It made me start to think of how, yes, I’m lucky for a paid day off of work, but also of infinite other things.

Vietnam Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina

Vietnam Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina

Recently, for no reason at all, Mitchell and I were able to pick up and drive to Washington, D.C. for the weekend. We were free to go to the Holocaust museum to learn about horrendous things that happened – things we don’t have to worry about here, while in some countries, such museums would be banned.

On the deck of the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

We also went to the Newseum where we learned about countries that do versus do not have free speech. Many people haven’t even considered how lucky we are to be able to get on the internet and go to any website our heart desires, or post any opinion, view, or conspiracy theory we want.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

I can vote, drive a car, go to school, and have a career among so many other things – I can support myself and do so many things that women in other countries couldn’t even dream of. If I want to, I can do it alone; or if I’d rather settle down, I can choose my own partner!

Blue Ridge Parkway in the Smoky Mountains, North Carolina

I don’t have to live in fear. So many of us take that for granted.

For these reasons and for so many others, we have our veterans to thank. Because of our veterans, we are a free country.

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

So thank you. Thank you to all of those who wrote a blank check to our country; for the endless sacrifice you were willing to make for us. And to the families, who also sacrifice so much. One day is not enough to pay tribute, and I am eternally grateful.

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Deep Creek in Bryson City, North Carolina

When planning our trip to Bryson City, one of the absolute must-do activities on my list was hiking to seeing a waterfall! Luckily, with just a little planning, we were able to make this happen relatively easily. Bonus: ONE hike, THREE waterfalls!

Bryson City, North Carolina

You may remember my last post describing how I came to find out about Bryson City, which was a picture almost exactly like this one that I found on pinterest:

Bryson City, North Carolina

Well, turns out this picture is in Deep Creek, home to a ton of fun stuff to do! As though the opportunity to go tubing in the mountains alongside waterfalls wasn’t enough to make me want to go, Deep Creek also offers hiking, biking, cabins, fishing, and more, but it is specifically known for its streams and waterfalls. This is when I discovered they have a short hike that offers you not only one, but three waterfalls.

Bryson City, North Carolina

It was a simple hike to all three waterfalls. The hike to the first waterfall was the only time I would consider the endeavor an actual hike, and that was only 0.6 of a mile. This is also coming from someone who is severely out of shape. The rest of the time, we were walking along a path, and it didn’t feel like we were putting forth much effort at all.

Bryson City, North Carolina

Juney Whank Falls was the first waterfall, and also happened to be the one that I was least impressed with (yes, the one that was the most difficult to get to). Other traveler pictures show the waterfall with quite a bit more water than what we experienced, so my guess is that it was pretty dried up while we were there. Juney Whank Falls is viewed by a bridge, which adds a special touch to this particular waterfall. We also talked to a local who told us that Juney Whank Falls are said to be named after a man believed to be buried in the area, although some other locals believe Juney Whank is the Cherokee meaning for “where the bear passes”.

Juney Whank Falls in Bryson City, North Carolina

Tom’s Branch Falls is the waterfall you see so many tubers and floaters pass by, the exact waterfall that inspired our trip to Bryson City. There’s something special to me about Tom’s Branch Falls, and I think it’s just that I’m obsessed with the fact that you can tube right by it. Maybe I’m easily amused, but how many times do you get to do that in your life? We also saw some tubers set their tubes aside and climb amongst the waterfall. We weren’t wearing proper attire so we passed on that opportunity.

Bryson City, North Carolina

Indian Creek Falls was my favorite! This is also the farthest away from where you will park your car, but so worth it, especially because it truly is a simple walk! We also kept stopping to peer out at all the people tubing the river. We found ourselves surprised that we were up so high because it honestly did not feel like we were on an incline at all.

Bryson City, North Carolina

Our hikewalk (I think that should be a word) was approximately 2.4 miles total. So if you are visiting the area for a weekend, like the situation almost always is for us, then it’s perfect for a half-day activity (give or take). Instead of taking a crazy several-hour hike, we were able to see three waterfalls while also crossing off a few other items on our bucket list that day.

Bryson City, North Carolina

See that little baby waterfall behind us? That’s the Juney Whank waterfall.

Helpful Recommendations:
If you are uncomfortable with hiking, you could skip the first waterfall (Juney Whank Falls) and just walk along the more-developed paths (they’re essentially well-maintained roads) to the other two waterfalls.

Once you start the hike, there’s nowhere to buy or drink water so I recommend bringing your own. We did not plan ahead so we didn’t have water, but we were fine because the temperature was mild that day.

If you are interested in tubing, you have to carry your tube to wherever you want to start from. This might seem like common sense to some, but in my tubing history, we’ve always mapped it out to where we could end in the same place we started, or we would bring two vehicles (one to drop off at the start, and one for the end); neither of these are options here. Also, while we enjoyed watching the people tubing, I’m not sure how much they were enjoying it – the water was pretty cold, and it was also very low (and it’s rocky!). I believe the water was lower than usual when we visited, so that might not be how it always is, but I’d recommend checking it out before committing to walking a long distance with your tube!

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Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway

This is going to be one of those posts where you won’t have to listen to me talk (write?) quite so much because the pictures will speak for themselves. You’re welcome 😉

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives. Read this blog to find out a little more about it!

When we went to Bryson City over Labor Day weekend, one of the things I really wanted to do was drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. While I’d love to take my time and drive the entire 469 miles someday, we drove for about 30 miles of it.

Blue Ridge Parkway views from different lookouts. Beautiful! Check out the blog to see more

When I was planning our Bryson City trip, I found myself pretty confused trying to figure out exactly where to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, once we rolled into town, I quickly learned that all you have to do is follow the signs because they are everywhere.

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I honestly had no idea what to expect. I feared twisty, windy, and scary roads but that was not the case at all. The roads were very well maintained, easy to drive, and there were plenty of lookouts with convenient parking every 5-10 miles. We somehow lucked out and had most of the lookouts to ourselves, with the exception of about 2 or 3. This was surprising because we were there not only on Saturday, but Labor Day Saturday (read: busiest weekend ever).

One of the beautiful sights from a lookout on the Blue Ridge Parkway!

The first view took my breath away; I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was. I thought surely we wouldn’t beat the view but then every lookout we stopped at afterwards provided its own breath-taking, beautiful view. I could have stayed on the Blue Ridge Parkway much longer, but the sun was starting to go down.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina - check out more pictures on the blog

When we visited the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was cloudy. While this makes for good pictures, it does not make for good sunset-viewing.

Blue Ridge Parkway from North Carolina

We are headed back to the area again this weekend, and hope to catch the sunset and Autumn-colored trees. We also plan to take a train ride, which I’m so excited about!

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Flashback Friday: Denver, Colorado

Since I am a little late starting this travel blog (like, maybe 10 years late), I thought it would be appropriate for my first post to be a “flashback” on the place that I feel is responsible for initiating my love of travel… Denver, Colorado. I grew up visiting the Denver area with my grandparents to visit my aunt.

My aunt and uncle still live there, so in 2010, my mom, my aunt’s family, and I went back to Denver to visit, and we got to see a lot more of what the Denver area has to offer. All of these places are within a 3-hour radius of Denver. But first, let me start you off with a picture of my aunt’s backyard:

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The Royal Gorge

Located in Canon City, Colorado, The Royal Gorge is a canyon on the Arkansas River. For lack of a better word, it’s huge.IMG_20150614_215843

There is lodging nearby, and there is a tourist center as well as places to eat. You can walk across the bridge, or you can take a gondola ride. There is also a slingshot ride which will toss you right over the side of the canyon (in a harness, of course). In this picture, you can see the gondola, which I feel puts how enormous everything is into perspective.

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White Water Rafting
I consider myself to be somewhat of a thrill-seeker, and I was really excited to try white water rafting. I did not expect it to be terrifying, though. I blame it on not knowing what to do – turns out, a lot of teamwork is required in order to navigate the raft and our raft guide was awful – while we watched all of the other groups practicing what to do in the water, he told us we’d “figure it out when we got in”. We had someone fall out within the first 5 minutes in the water, and we didn’t feel comfortable in the water until it was time to get out.

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Air Force Academy
The Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, and it’s a military academy for officer candidates. My favorite part of the academy was the chapel:
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Olympics Training Center
Also in Colorado Springs is the Olympic training center. It’s around $5 for a tour, and very informative! And of course, you have to take a touristy picture like this:
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My family also hiked while we were there, but I hurt my knee and wasn’t able to go. Since our primary purpose was to visit my aunt, we didn’t see as much as we could have in a 5-day period. But this is a good start, and we will definitely be back!

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