Posted on May 15, 2017
Some people bring nothing but joy, bliss, and positivity to your life. For me, two of those people are my friends Justin and Samsara, who I met during my stay in a Dominican Republic tree house village. I was lucky enough to reconnect with both of them on a recent trip to LA, despite the fact that neither of them actually live in Los Angeles.
As one of our many adventures, and to offset all the food we gorged ourselves on over the weekend, we decided to go for a hike in the mountains of Malibu. Specifically, Justin took us all to Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls.
This is also known as the “three waterfall hike” because you can hike to all three tiers of Escondido Falls. The Escondido Falls are the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the tiers are 50 feet, 25 feet, and 150 feet, respectively.
The actual hiking portion was simple enough, and stretched 4.2 miles past Malibu mansions and through beautiful flora. I usually hike 10-12 miles every weekend so I thought this would be a leisurely afternoon. But I should have known that a day with Justin and Samsara would be filled with adventure.
The first part of the hike is easy. Just a general stroll through the wild flowers, across riparian canyon terrain, and over several creek crossings that required careful stepping over logs and rocks. But that just led us to the first waterfall. After that, things got interesting.
In order to get to the second and third waterfalls you had to switch to climbing mode over large rocks and muddy hills. This path isn’t very accessible if you have any mobility issues, but with the help of some ropes and large tree roots, you can make your way to the second and third falls. Things get pretty wet and slippery, so be sure to have proper climbing shoes (which I did not have) and prepare to get muddy.
But once you get to the main falls, the climb is totally worth it!
For the last few years Escondido Falls has been relatively dry due to the drought. But thanks to a wet winter and some rainy days leading up to the hike, the falls were flowing while we were there.
Samsara and I spent some time goofing around at the base of the falls, jumping off the rocks, and having fun on a rope swing as Justin took off exploring.
While we were engaged in frivolity, Justin had made his way to the top of the falls and beckoned for us to follow.
Please note that Samara is barefoot for this hike, because she is a badass.
Other than one session of indoor rock climbing a few years ago, this was my first attempt at climbing. It was also my first attempt at bouldering of any sort. The climb was one of the scariest and most dangerous things I have ever done. I do not recommend attempting to take the same route we did unless you are an experienced climber. There were several points along the way that I did not think I was going to make it (I even had to abandon my bag, as you can see above) and had I fallen, it would have been disastrous.
At the top of the most difficult part of the ascent was a small slot we had to climb through. The only way to get up its slick walls was to push your back up against one side and use your feet to climb up the other. Basically I applied the trick I learned watching cartoons as a kid to pull myself up.
Having my own personal cheering squad at the top definitely helped too.
But the view at the top made the climb and the fear completely worth it. We could see the waterfall, the canyon, and of course, the Pacific Ocean.
We all took time to enjoy the view and take our fair share of pictures. Part of me expected to end up in one of those “selfies taken right before disaster” click bait articles.
But instead, we had a lovely time relaxing and meditating at the precipice.
It rained on and off that day, just like it did during our trip to the Dominican rain forrest. That combined with the company and the complete lack of cell service resulted in one of the best and most relaxing days I’ve had since returning from my planned #funemployment.
At one point while admiring the view we heard the sound of what sounded like a team of hikers coming up behind us. It was, however, a small rockslide crashing down the path we’d just climbed up.
I want to reiterate that you should not attempt to replicate my stupidity and that this climb is not meant for novices. My only saving grace was the flexibility gained from doing yoga 5 times a week for the last 4 months.
Of course we had to make our way to the very top of the falls for some photos. The water behind me is what was flowing over the top of the highest part of Escondido Falls.
It began to rain again right before we started our climb down. While the cool rain drops were refreshing, it also make the rocks extremely slippery and the dirt trail slick and muddy. I fell, more than once, and was utterly caked in mud. Fortunately, I only had some muddy clothes and a few scrapes and bruises to show for it.
Overall, we could not have picked a better way to spend our day. It was just the adventure I needed.
The Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls hike is free and the parking area is just off the majestic Pacific Coast Highway (which I hope to drive start to finish one day). If you visit on a Sunday, it is also just down the road from the fabulous Malibu Farmers Market where we got delicious fresh fruit and the best sprouted almonds I’ve ever had.
Posted on April 5, 2017
Taylor Hollow is a 163-acre nature preserve hidden away an hour outside of Nashville. The Nature Conservancy owns the property and they have done an excellent job protecting the land. Taylor Hallow is wonderfully secluded. In fact, you’ll have to drive for a good 15 minutes before you even come back into cell phone range. It is perfect.
I go hiking almost every weekend, but I have never gone on a wildflower hike. I didn’t know what I was missing out on.
They entire hike is lined with a crystal clear babbling brook which leads to a hidden cave. There is also a waterfall, but the water was too low for it to be running during our visit.
Taylor Hollow supports more than 380 plant species and is home to state endangered plants as the Blue-eyed Mary and the Ozark Least Trillium and several state threatened plants such as the Michigan Lily and the Butternut.
We picked the prefect weekend for a visit. Everything was in full bloom.
My crappy iPhone photos do not do the place justice, but it is just beautiful. It would be the prefect place for a spring picnic and an afternoon of seclusion.
Other than fluttering butterflies and busy bumblebees, there was not a lot of wildlife to be seen on the day we visited. However, I did make friends with a curious snail. (No snails were harmed in the taking of this photograph.)
Now that Spring is here, take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds us and be sure to visit your nearest nature preserve or botanical garden.
Posted on March 4, 2017
The Tennessee Environmental Council had an initiative this year to distribute (for free!) and plant 100,000 native Tennessee trees across the state . . . all on one day. It was the largest community tree planting event in the state’s history. This more than doubles the 46,000 trees they planted for the same event last year.
We planted oaks, plum trees, and shortleaf pines. I was really surprised how small the trees were. The oak and plumb tress just looked like sticks and the pines were only a few inches tall. But, they were all adorable. It did not take much effort to get the trees planted. We just needed to dig about an 8 inch hole deep enough to fully insert the roots.
There was such a great turn out of volunteers that it didn’t take long to get our trees planted. So, I stopped by to visit some of the owls on the way out. Below is Thoreau the barred owl. Thoreau made his way to Owl’s Hill after being hit by a car and losing most of his right wing. Poor baby. He was, however, very wise and told me precisely how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. I’ll never tell.
Now, for your enjoyment (because reading about trees is kind of boring) I give you some bad tree jokes:
Do you want a brief explanation of an acorn?
In a nutshell, it’s an oak tree.
What is a tree’s favorite shape?
Why did the pine tree get in trouble?
Because it was being knotty.
I apologize for all of those.
Posted on October 6, 2016
There are many wonderful ways to spend your Sunday afternoon in the South. Personally, I enjoy using my Sundays to watch sports, any sports. The weather is finally starting to cool down, so I decided to take advantage of the two weeks of fall we get here and do my sports watching outside. Apparently, October is the beginning of polo season so this week’s activity basically picked itself.
Before writing this post I asked a friend if there was anything she wanted to know about polo that I should put in the blog. She asked, “Was Prince William there? I assume it’s a rule that polo can only be played in the presence of royalty.” I responded, “That’s why I was there.”
So, a little bit about polo: There are two types of polo matches, field and arena. Field polo is played on grass and arena polo is played on dirt. Arena polo is played with a small air-filled ball, similar to a small soccer ball. You can see the orange polo ball in bottom left of the next photo. Also, polo is coed, which is pretty darn cool.
Arena polo is divided into four 7 1/2 periods called chukkers, which give both the players and the horses a break. In fact, the players change horses during each break (hence why there are different horses in each picture).
There is no net in polo. Instead, the players attempt to hit the ball into painted doors on either side of the field. You can see them below over Gnash’s shoulder. (For some reason the Predators’—Nashville’s hockey team—mascot was there for the game and was hanging out in the crowd.)
There are some interesting rules to polo that aren’t really analogous to other sports. Each time a player hits a ball down the field it creates an imaginary line called the “line of the ball” which continues past the ball. The player who hit the ball has the right of way, and the other players cannot cross the line of the ball in front of that player unless it is at a safe speed and distance. The other players run along side of the line.
The defending player can push the opponent off the line or steal the ball from the opponent. Alternatively, a player can block another player’s swing by using his or her mallet to hook the mallet of the player swinging at the ball. A player can also give an equine hip check as long as it does not endanger the horses or push the horse into the wall.
It was a great day to watch a polo match. The sun was out and the air was nice and cool. The atmosphere at a match is surprisingly relaxed. Lots of people brought chairs and blankets to sit on to watch the game. There is also beer and wine available to start your Sunday right.
The game itself was really exciting. Nashville played Louisville so there was a hometown team to cheer for. The commentators did a great job of calling the match and explaining the rules of the game. It made it pretty easy for a newbie like me to follow along.
The seating was really close to the action, just a few feet from the field. In fact, an errant ball or two went flying into the crowd. The match ended up in a tie: 11-11. I was hoping for a Nashville win, but perhaps I’ll have to wait until the next match.
It is just the start of the polo season so you have plenty of time to get out and enjoy a match before it gets cold. If you live in the Nashville area, the Franklin Polo Academy has matches every weekend this month. It is a lovely way to spend an afternoon!
Posted on September 29, 2016
I like to add some variety to my adventures. Some weeks my New Thing can be done during a quiet evening at home. Other weeks it involves running and jumping off of a cliff. This week was the latter. I have had my eye on paragliding since I first tried hang gliding a few years ago. I significantly preferred that peaceful experience to the adrenaline (and terror) filled falls involved with my adventures in skydiving and bungee jumping.
After an amazing weekend of watching Tennessee beat the Florida Gators (Go Vols), I decided to take a detour down to Dunlap, Tennessee on the way home. Dunlap boasts that it is the “Hang Gliding Capital of the East” and has served as the home to the East Coast Hang Gliding Championships. Well, I think it is a pretty good spot for paragliding too.
I met Dave Hanning and Brain Petersen of Flying Camp at the top of Henson Gap, 2,300 feet above the Sequatchie Valley. It was a typical fall day in Tennessee, and by that I mean it was almost 100 degrees outside. However, it felt nice and cool in the shade at the top of the mountain. This was a relief as it took a few hours of waiting for the right wind conditions to be able to launch.
I did a tandem flight, which means I was tethered to Brian (thank goodness) while he controlled the glider (again, phew). The launching process is done into the wind. When it was finally time to go, we stood at the edge of the cliff, glider laid out on the ground behind us, waiting for the right wind to hit. When the right gust came along, Brian pulled the glider and it caught the air and inflated behind us as we started to run forward.
Within just a few steps the ground was no longer beneath our feet. It was what every kid who used a blanket as a “parachute” when jumping out of a tree house dreamed of. What? Was that just me?
The flight lasted around 40 amazing minutes. We soared back and forth near the launch site in search of a thermal. A thermal is a rising column of air that can increase your altitude as high as the cloud base (science!). Once you hit a thermal you fly in a circle, trying to find the strongest part where the air is rising the fastest.
When we hit the thermal and started to rise the vario-altimeter started to beep signaling an altitude change. It sounded like the world was ending. Imagine the beeping sound a bomb makes in movies right before the hero defuses it.
However, it actually was a sign that we were rising approximately 2,000 feet above the original launch location. In the picture below, you can see Henson Gap far beneath us on the left. The day was clear and beautiful and we could easily see 50 miles away to the nuclear plant in Watts Bar. Before we landed, Brian fit in a few aerobatics which added some extra excitement to an already thrilling ride.
Below is a video of our launch from the edge of the cliff:
And here is a video from the air as well as the landing:
Paragliding was a magical experience and one I certainly want to repeat. Although it took me a little while to settle my nerves, I felt completely safe and loved every minute of the ride. If you are looking for some adventure but sky diving or bungee jumping are a little too much for you to handle, then paragliding (or hang gliding) might be the right excursion for you.
Posted on July 5, 2016
Glamping. What is it? Glamping is short for “glamorous camping.” It takes the splendor and isolation of camping and combines it with hotel-like creature comforts like real beds, furniture, and modern plumbing.
Or, if you do it Tom Haverford style, it is this:
I don’t recall where I first heard about glamping, but it has been on my To Do list since I learned that it exists. For our glamping experience we spent the 7th night of the 3,000 mile road trip at Moab Under Canvas. (Stay tuned for a post on the road trip next week).
Moab Under Canvas is located just minutes from Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse State Park. The glamp grounds are separated from everything else around so all you see are tents and nature (and tiny fluffy desert bunnies).
When we got there we were immediately taken by the mellow vibe of the grounds and the people who worked there. It was clear our stay was going to be special.
I booked a deluxe tent for a little extra space, privacy, and an in-tent full bathroom. (I had tent number 4 on the map above). When I fist saw the interior of the tent, my reaction was essentially this:
The tent was gorgeous.
The furniture was simple, but classic and cozy. There was no power in the tent so it came with 3 lanterns, which I largely used to not bump into things as I wandered the grounds at night.
The best part of the deluxe tent was my own private bathroom. It felt a little weird to bathe by lantern light behind a sheet of canvas, mainly because I am pretty sure the lanterns cast shadows on the tent for passersby to see. But, the water was piping hot and that is really the only thing I cared about.
The view from the tent was breathtaking. The front of the tent overlooked the desert and Arches National Park in the distance. The shaded porch provided the perfect spot to kick up my feet and just enjoy my surroundings. This was particularly nice because, unlike the East Coast, there are basically no bugs to bother you in the desert so you don’t have to worry about mosquitos or other insects flying in your face while to try to relax.
At night, Under Canvas hosted a bonfire complete with s’mores. Yum!
As the sun set, the landscape and night sky were transformed. Somehow, almost impossibly, becoming more beautiful than before.
Under Canvas also had two common areas. One (pictured below) in which you could relax in front of a fire or play board games and another where you could charge your devices or connect to their ethernet.
Finally, it was time to retire via lantern light. I really think their bed was the most comfortable one I’ve ever slept in. At first, I had a little trouble falling asleep. Every time I heard a noise I wondered if someone was walking toward my tent. However, within a few minutes I was fast asleep.
I got up at 6:00 the next morning just in time to watch the sun rise from my front porch. I think this may have been the first time I have ever just sat and watched this occur. The sun delivered.
I was able to order breakfast through Under Canvas which was both delicious and extremely convenient. It saved us an extra stop before our morning hike in Arches National Park.
There are two other Under Canvas locations in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. If you can make it to one of the locations, don’t hesitate, just do it. But a warning, they sell out quickly, so plan early.
Special shout out to Sam, our hostess with the mostess, for making our visit extra fun. While the experience itself was truly unique, this was one of those occasions where the people who worked there set the mood for our entire stay.
Posted on July 2, 2016
Adventure makes life more interesting. It also makes road trips more interesting. I wanted to make the most of my time in the Denver area so I jumped at the chance to add some whitewater rafting to the itinerary.
We went to Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting in Idaho Springs, Colorado for an afternoon of rafting on the beautiful Clear Creek. The weather started out a bit dicey and thunderstorms were predicted all afternoon. In fact, we received a flash flood alert en route to Idaho Springs.
Me: Should we be in a river when there is a flash flood warning?
Jill: It’s ok, we’ll be in a raft.
Magically, our weather luck continued and the rain cleared just as we prepared to depart.
We started with a series of Class II and Class III rapids before hitting the more dramatic Class IV rapids. I was a little nervous about my prospects of staying inside the raft after my disastrous kayaking experience, so I dug my feet into the raft as deep as possible to secure myself. I even used one foot to kick the other one to wedge it in as far as it could go. I was determined to stay put.
We rafted down the river for approximately 8 miles and ran rapids called the Hemorrhoids, Deliverance, and Outer Limits, among others. We got thrown around a fair bit, but we all managed to stay in the raft.
Just in case things got a bit too wild, there was a safety guy in a kayak who stayed ahead of us in case we needed fishing out. On the more intense rapids, a guy with a rope (who you can see in the video below) stood on the shore to drag us in.
It was a chilly day in the 50s but our wetsuits kept us pretty warm and dry. That was a pleasant surprise. A few times icy water managed to make it inside of the top of my wetsuit . . . which definitely woke me up.
When we weren’t paddling or navigating the rapids we got to enjoy the scenery of Idaho Springs.
We passed beautiful hills, dramatic cliffs, gold mills, water wheels, and waterfalls.
If you are visiting the area, I definitely suggest enhancing your stay by experiencing a little white water. If you choose Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting, ask for Steve.
You can watch a video of one set of rapids here: