Category: travel

The French were here first

by Andrea Elizabeth

While strolling through the streets of the reconstructed 1700’s Fortress Louisbourg on the north Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, I had the impression that if it were a monastery I’d like to live there. Big enough to house enough same-goaled people far enough apart so that you wouldn’t feel in each others’ faces too much. Solid and fortified enough to insulate from the outside, unless the attack is from the underprotected rear instead of straight on from the sea, which is what the English did twice and finally demolished the place. But shady tactics aside, the Fortress feels secure. I could take it a little less fancy, but the feeling of communally walking down the lanes to the chapel, bakery, icehouse, and rum-house was very cozy and nice. Additionally, pre-electricity and gas hand-hewn living feels more honest and pure, even though the sanitation was almost non-existent. It is said you could smell the place 10 miles away, but that’s still more honest than chemically induced hygiene. I don’t think we’re prepared to return to this stage of development cold-turkey, but it’s nice to have it in bits and pieces.


Mission style

by Andrea Elizabeth

Mount Magazine State Park lodge near Paris, Arkansas, doesn’t feel like a state park. It feels like a very nice resort, but with a state park lodge price. All the rooms look out over Petit Jean valley, whose depth cannot be conveyed by pictures. Perched up here one can imagine feudal times where the lord of the land looked over the farming valley dwellers with sovereign smugness, or during famine, omniscient worry. Would the peasants try to scale the shear cliff shelf lining the top of the mountain to beg for crumbs off the lord’s table? Would he give them?

Most unusual sight at this park: a sign saying, “hang-gliding launch”.

We arrived just before sunset as planned after driving 6 hours though freezing rain, but no mishaps. The chill wind wasn’t so bad on our brief exploration of the old lodge trail after we got in among the trees. The old lodge burned down in 1971. The current one took 30 years to rebuild. They copied the ’30’s WPA mission style right before the economy busted in 2008. I don’t think they could have done it after. Thank goodness. Sometimes angels know when to get things done.

Angels are helping me with this trip. Right after I bought a hooded jacket last Thursday, it started to rain. I’ve needed the hood several times since then. As we left the driveway they reminded me that I forgot my cross stitch scissors in the passenger seat pocket of the other car. When I went to get them, my head scarf tie was sticking out of its cubby, waving to me. I’ll need that Tuesday night when we stop for Vespers at The Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pa. The Long John Silvers in McAlester, Ok, has the best onion rings ever. Of course all this might not be the workings of angels, it could be my mother in law, whose one year anniversary of her passing we are commemorating with this trip. Or Sister Elizabeth, whose 40 days my son, two daughters, and their friend just passed with other Orthodox friends Saturday at the Monastery of the Nativity in Kemp, south of Dallas, also with Metropolitan Jonah and former Abbot Gerasim.

It’s been a blessed weekend.


by Andrea Elizabeth

We really enjoyed hiking, wading and swimming in the river, cooking out, and playing games at the cabin on the mountain. It was very secluded and peaceful.

Then to Carlsbad. It was the second time most of us had been to the Caverns, the first was 8 years ago. It was weird to see every cactus and tree on the park charred and dead. Apparently there was a fire during the heatwave last summer that is still being investigated.

It seems a non separation of Church and State for a national park to display the name “Rock of Ages” on one of their formations, and to make a big deal about how the Big Room is in the shape of a cross. Maybe the symbols are cryptic enough to get around the atheists.

I was able to do a little cross stitching at the cabin. I am on the second to last repetition of pattern on the top border. It is a bit tedious, but I like that there are times I don’t have to count, so I can think about other things. Like how the pattern coming onto a blank page, so to speak, takes shape identically each time. It’s like cutting and pasting, but by counting instead. I started comparing it to forms, where the idea pre-exists the materialization. But the idea is exact, not more basic or pure.

Which brings us back to work. One of my daughter’s ABeka memory verses today is Romans 2:10,For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” I am thinking that these good works are more about the repetition of a specific pattern, even though individual manifestations may appear different. The pattern is invisible, as love and relational connections are. I’m thinking these individual connections are the good works. Bad connections are passionate, sinful ones; good connections are loving and unselfish. The material objects themselves may be the same or different, but are a vital part of the connection.

Dark and stormy ish

by Andrea Elizabeth

It was rainy and almost dark when they got to their rented mountain cabin. Four wheel drive was recommended, but it was said that some had made it up the steep switchback access with front wheel drive rental cars. They didn’t say mini van, but surely that would work. Back seats in SUV’s don’t have enough leg room. The rain made it more slippery, so when they got stuck in the gutter backing down for their third try, the six grown bodied passengers got out to free the back end. It’s just as well they missed the precarious drive up the rest of the way. Walking at an elevation of 7500 ft up the piney wooded drive in the darkening rain was less stressful, and could be managed with frequent breaks when altitude sickness encroached. Most of them where used to it as it was their third summer in a row in the Sangre de Christo mountains, the closest mountains to their house high enough to break the southern summer heat. The two friends with them were willing enough to acclimate.

They were rewarded, not only by the hinted at, mistily veiled setting, but the warm lights through arched, Bavarian painted adobe windows, smooth red double level floor with wooden and stone nooks for the bed, living, dining, books, games, and wood burning type stove. Four mostly teen age girls fit fine in the low ceilinged garret type loft on two twin beds and air mattresses; the dogs and the boy on the futon.

They brought enough groceries for dinner and breakfast, but considered rationing them to minimize car trips back down and up that grade. Nah, mountain people are tougher than city people.

Itinerary two

by Andrea Elizabeth

Continued from here. Friday, 1pm. We head back north out of the park the six miles on white dust road as that is the only way to get out. Then back to 580, but stay on it, with its more mature bluebonnets and a full field of lavender cloud flowers in Nix, to Lampasas and the dog-friendly Sonic. The car hop even has free dog treats.

Once refreshed, we head south on the uneventful 281. Maybe one little patch of bluebonnets. But when we turn west on 29 in Burnet, the Texas highway commission must have gone all out and planted them all along that gorgeous road through more dramatic hills. This is the heart of the Highland Lakes. After 11 such miles, we turn south on Park Rd 4 which is narrower and twistier, with just as many bluebonnets.

3pm. Next stop, Inks Lake State Park where I brandish my new pass. The lady asks how many adults and children in the car, just for the record, I suppose, as the whole car-full is free. She gives me a map and tells me that the best day trip area is Devil’s Waterhole. So we head that way, park by the lake, and commence down the trail towards the end of the lake where it gets more rocky on the other side. There’s another trail to the right up some pink granite with rainbow streaks that looks like a mini version of Enchanted Rock, not that far away. I’m surprised the kids are up for it, and so are the dogs. I let them traipse on ahead which turns out to be a good idea. From the top you can see a creek going towards the lake through the rocks and further down, a mini waterfall. (here’s a pretty picture) I keep Rebecca and Pippin at the top with me, and he happily sits down and watches the older two and Merry go down and over to the waterfall. Then Rebecca, Pippin, Merry and I decide to go back to the camp area and let the 21 and 17yo’s keep going up stream, where I think they saw a bridge.

Our feet are starting to get sore, so we do not have many ambitions for our next park only a few miles south down the same park rd 4, Longhorn Caverns State Park. You actually don’t need a ticket for this park unless you take the cave tour. With the dogs not being allowed and us being tired, we opted out of that, but were allowed to go down the 55 steps to the mouth of the cave where it is a constant cool temperature. We also went up the lookout tower to see the area lakes and huge castle built on one of the hills on the horizon. They also have a very tree’d trail that we saw the first little section of before heading out and calling it a day.

Saturday, 6am. Rise and shine. If you don’t get to Enchanted Rock before they open at 8am on busy days like weekends and holidays, you can’t be guaranteed to be let in. They close when the parking lot is full. After another pretty drive on 71 after 281 (where we had a car wash to take care of all the white dust), with the dawn breaking on a densely dark overcast sky and the most bluebonnets yet as the hilly roadside had more room than the ones on 29 and 4, headed south on 16, took the park road and arrived at Enchanted Rock at 8:15. There was already a line of people out the door which hadn’t opened yet. There were two opening times on the bulletin board, 8am and 8:30 am. They abide by the latter. We finally start our hike at 9am. I’m worried that Pippin may be too sore from yesterday to make the steep ascent on the stepless granite dome, but he’s actually in his element. With the weather keeping him cool (his fur coat is much thicker than Merry’s) he pulls me up the textured side. I suppose his lower center of gravity and not having to jump up steps makes the steep ascent perfect for his short little legs. We need breaks at the same time, during which I turn around on the side of the dome and watch the growing car line out the park and down the road in both directions. Enchanted Rock rises 500 feet above the surrounding country side and you can see for miles in all directions from the always windy top. He and I stay up there and watch the 3 kids and Merry go down the other side a little ways to where a fissure has developed and trapped some of the exfoliating layers to make a rock climbing and cave area. I wave at Ben when he gets on one of the rocks with Merry and hear someone behind me say, “look they have another Corgi over there.” There were lots of comments about them during this trip. “I like the bigger one better.” “Are they related?” “Look at their legs!” “Can I pet them?” (many times) “Do they like crowds?” said the Boyscout Leader as he led his large troop down a narrow path which we pulled over for to let pass. “If you oo and ah over them” I said. “Ooo! Ah!” he said as he petted them both. A few of the boys followed suit as the dogs got as close to them as their leashes would allow.

We chose a different way down the side to go back to the car. This led us to a very rocky trail where Pippin and Merry had to be carried over 4 foot pink granite boulders in disarray. An in shape middle aged lady who had commented (as she passed) on the way up about how hard it might be for Pippin to go up, came up behind us with her husband and said, “if they can do it, I can”. At one really difficult point the husband asked if he could help me. I said, “can you carry the dog?” Ben had the much heavier Pippin and I had little Merry. So he took her from me and down a few of the boulders, and then handed her to his wife, who deposited her at the bottom of that section with Ben and Pippin. Behind me, Rachel helped Rebecca find her way down. It was funny to see strangers carrying cuddly Merry down the rocks.

We were back to our car around 11, and took beautiful 29 back to Burnet then up 281 and such back home in time for Vigil.

Now I want to take George, but the bluebonnets will be gone before he even gets a single day off.

The itinerary

by Andrea Elizabeth

Friday morning. Wake up at 6am to leave at 6:30, or more likely 7 am.

Head south on 51 to Granbury where we stop at a McDonalds for meatless Egg McMuffins. We haven’t completely cut out dairy yet during Lent.

Take 377 southwest through Stephenville to Comanche where the first early bluebonnets are sighted.

Turn south on 16 to Goldthwait. At the park where we’ve taken time lapsed pictures of the kids in different stages of development perched on the same leaning tree, turn southeast on 183 to Lometa where you take 580 west.

Now you’re on smaller, river bottom roads with bigger trees and greener fields. Take 581 southwest to Colorado Bend State Park.

11am. There is no ranger station at the entrance. Just a dusty white rock road. Fortunately I knew I was looking for the 2 mile Gorman Falls trail. I missed it first go round however. Instead I drove without gps coverage for I don’t know how long, till we crested a tall hill with a beautiful view and coverage, and the map said we were almost at the park’s other end. So I turned around and drove all the way back because I knew the Falls trail was close to the north end. And it was. We turned toward the trail and find a pretty populated parking lot where I don the water bottle and dog bowl laden back pack. I am confused about how I am to buy a state park pass where you can go to any state park in Texas within a year for the price it would take the three adults in my car to go to 4 parks, which we planned on doing this trip alone. Then a ranger comes up with a clipboard and tells me that they have an honor box at the gate. I said I wanted to get a pass, and he said that I can go ahead and hike the Gorman Falls trail and get a pass afterward. I asked where could I do that, and he said at the other end of the park. The end that I had almost just come to down that very long dusty, rocky, slidey road.

At the trail entrance the dogs got their first request to pet from two cute little siblings who had their own taller, white, newly clipped dog. The dogs cheerfully obliged, then set their noses toward adventure. We slowly ascended the smooth rock mixed with packed dirt trail that was a little springy from the recent God-sent rains, but not enough to muddy the shoes or paws. The gentle slope and breeze was quite pleasant. There were numerous cactus, mesquite and oak trees, with occasional little yellow and purple flowers. The trail curved just enough to keep the vista changing where you could see various other hills around the Colorado River valley.

Then we started the somewhat steeper slope down. It was even steeper on the return trip. Pippen, the 9yo dog, thought it was so much steeper on the way back that his little hind legs began to get a wobbly toward the top, so Ben decided to carry him part way. Anyway, the final part of the trail had much larger rocks that Pippin negotiated in his own determined, methodical, surveyed and planned out way. 3yo Merry took more direct routes as she is very springy and agile.

We finally got to Gorman Falls which empty from the top of a hill, down into the impressively wide Colorado River. The trail didn’t give us a view of where the water was coming from. A spring or creek? (this is the park website pic. I have a nice one, but it’s not on this computer.) This is not a very characteristic view in Texas, but we’re in the Highland Lakes part of the Hill Country, which adds green to rugged.

We get back to the car pretty spent at 1pm. The dogs immediately fall asleep. Pippin on the floor in the back seat, which is as far as he can climb at this point. And Merry in Rachel’s lap, on her pillow. Anything for her baby.

And I drive the 6 miles back down that gravelly, white dust road. To the view, then down a paved portion that twists to the crowded campsights right along the river. The other side of the river is privately owned and is lined with very tall, craggy, dark gray cliffs with even taller hills behind them. Quite surprising. I wonder if that’s why it’s called the Colorado River. The park ranger that I spoke to before is in the little station, but my turn in line took me to the lady ranger who issued my pass to me. All I have to do is show my card and my driver’s license in any park and I’m in.

George just got home from his marathon weekend at work, so I’ll continue later.