John and I seem to work together best when we plan a trip at the very last minute. We booked our reservations for Cloudland Canyon State Park less than 24 hours before we departed just like we'd done for our trip to The Great Smokey Mountains. Our reservation for a 'walk-in campsite' was ideal for the weekend, because they are all within one half mile of a parking area and conveniently connected to the West Loop Trail (we didn't know that until we got there)!
After work on Friday, John and I hit the road from Birmingham to the northwest corner of Georgia with our pup Maria in my newly purchased Subaru Outback. We got to the parking lot of the walk-in campsite area around 7:30 p.m. and were nestled in our tent before nine. We would need a good night's rest to prepare for the hike ahead of us.
The West Rim Loop Trail was once ranked as a 'top ten hike in the U.S.' by Backpacker Magazine. The 4.8 mile “lollipop” loop trail lies atop the western edge of the canyon and provides incredible views of the ravine below. Naturally, John and I had to check it out, and it did not disappoint. A short connector path leads to the trail from the walk in campsites.
The flat and grassy 'Walk-In Campsite Connector Trail' follows the same stream that flows through the walk-in campsite area. We connected to the loop and were welcomed to our first viewpoint after a short climb up a boulder littered slope. As we traced the western rim of the canyon rim, the views continued to become more stunning. All of the main viewpoints have large stone platforms with well maintained railings, but various clearings allowed us to see the entire canyon from nearly every angle. The further south we hiked, the more clearly we could hear the water flowing below us.
Once we had crossed over Daniel Creek, we connected to the waterfall trail and began our descent of over 1,000 stairs. The Waterfall Trail is fairly short at just 1.8 miles, but it is more difficult than its length may imply.
John and I chose to go to Cherokee Falls first when the trail came to a 'T'. After about a half mile descent, we arrived at a great opening where the falls had made a nice, wide pool. We didn’t stay long, since we were expecting rain and wanted to make it to Hemlock Falls as well.
Descending further downstream of Daniel Creek lead us to the less trafficked Hemlock Falls. We barely made it down to the viewing platform before the rain started to drizzle on us. Maria and I ran up ahead to snag some pictures before the three of us took shelter under the platform we had just walked down from. After a 30 minute rest, we hopped back onto the trail and continued back to our campsite. The Waterfall Trail is rated 'strenuous', but John and I had no problem finishing this trail and the 'moderately strenuously' West Rim Loop Trail in 4 hours, including a 30 minute rain break!
When we made it back to our tent, we set up our Eno Hammock and relaxed 'til the sun started to set. The rain was persistent throughout the night but our Eureka! Apex 2 tent kept us, Maria, and our gear warm and dry. Even with the rain, we had an easy, fun, and relaxing weekend in the mountains!
Mardi Gras is a huge tradition down in New Orleans, Louisiana, that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city for the celebratory weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. I had always told myself and my friends that I would never go, but John and I recently had a blast at Mardi Gras in Mobile, and my friends pestered me for weeks to join them. I was sold.
Our host friend’s house was just off of Tchoupitoulas Street and practically on the parade route, so we didn’t have to go far to see the Mardi Gras action. Our hosts had been invited to a neighbor’s tent, so shortly after we arrived Friday night, we were walking down the street to enjoy some drinks and music before the parades.
I discovered that the only people excited to see the approaching Krewe of Morepheus were those of us who had yet to experience Mardi Gras. We had a blast making fools of ourselves to be showered with beads, toys, and trinkets. We all agreed that the marching bands were our favorite feature when they were actually performing.
Our group went from seven strong to only three almost instantly after arriving to Bourbon Street. My two girlfriends and I went to The Beach in hopes of finding the rest of our friends. We searched but couldn’t find them in the crowd. Naturally, we had a drink and started dancing.
We found our group later that night as they were calling an Uber to go home. My girlfriends and I hadn’t had enough, so we stayed and danced until nearly two in the morning. There was nothing afterward that could’ve been more satisfying than a greasy but delicious slice of pizza from the nearest daiquiri bar pizza.
Miraculously, everyone was feeling well during breakfast the next morning. We enjoyed La Boulangerie from the front porch of our friend’s house and watched the parade crews get their floats ready. Once we had finished our meals, we followed the crowd until we were back in the same spot we had been the night before.
The Krewe of Iris was approaching, but so was the rain. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay at this parade for long, but it allowed us time to plan our next move.
We knew that we wanted to head to Mid-City to see the Krewe of Endymion and meet up with some more friends from college. The rain continued to pour, but luckily, we had a friend drive us to the parade to meet our friends. We claimed a spot right on St. Charles Street for the Krewe of Endymion’s parade.
The Krewe of Endymion’s was by far the best parade we saw in New Orleans. Some floats had full-blown LED screen displays. This Krewe must spend thousands of dollars on their floats. The floats were extravagant and the queens who rode them fit right in.
The Queens wear massive headdresses called collars that have to be wired to the actual float so that the Queen doesn’t topple over. Their dresses alone cost upwards of $10,000. The pressure to not sweat must be unbearable! The parade goes on for over six hours. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be unable to move for that long.
The parade was nowhere near over, but we decided to leave around 6 p.m. when the rain picked up again.
We Uber'd down to Frenchmen’s Street so that we could eat and hit up some bars.We picked Adolfo’s above The Apple Barrel Bar. After sharing a plate of buttery clams, the remaining five of us ordered the same delicious fish entrée and were put into a food coma. We somehow managed to pick ourselves up from the table, move across the street to Café Negril, and listen to some live reggae music.
Two more broke off from the group, and the same two girls from the night before and I were the only ones out. This didn’t stop us from continuing the party. The balcony at The Blue Nile was calling our name, and we heard live jazz and knew we had picked a great place when we got to the stairwell. Sadly, this was our last stop for the Mardi Gras weekend. Once the band stopped, we decided to stop too.
The next morning was a quick shuffle out the door to beat the 11 a.m. parade that would block off our road home. We said our goodbyes over king cake and packed up our bags. I feel like I enjoyed my first New Orleans Mardi Gras experience so much, because it was spent with really great friends and the rain reduced crowd sizes.
Our weekend was nothing as crazy as I had mentally prepared for! I think the enjoyable weekend has prepared me for the craziness that is every other year and convinced me that I could come back for a “real” Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras (also known as Carnival) celebrations take place all across the world in accordance with the religious Lenten Season. America’s Mardi Gras roots lie in the port city of Mobile, Alabama. The city’s Southern Live Oak trees and buzzing nightlife make for a fitting Mardi Gras setting that Taylor and I couldn’t pass up.
We caught our first parade of the weekend at the corner of South Broad and Canal Street after a short walk from our Selma street Airbnb. The Mobile Mystics, Mobile Mystic Revelers, and Mobile Mystical Friends were showing off their floats as bystanders yelled and reached for Moon Pies, Oatmeal Creme pies, various trinkets, and unnumbered types of beads.
Local high school bands, dance groups, and community organizations marched and entertained between floats. Occasionally, a customized go-kart or truck would fill the space between floats with loud music and revving engines.
Once the parade finished, Taylor and I walked on broken beads down Government street to find a place to socialize before our next parade. We stopped into O’Daly’s Irish Pub and found seats on the patio. A Mardi Gras concoction later, a Talking Heads song lured us into the Brick Yard. We enjoyed the bar’s fantastic playlist and friendly atmosphere until it was time to hit the streets for the next parade.
The Maids of Mirth, Butterfly Maidens, and Krewe of Marry Mates made their way down the route and had the Mobile crowd buzzing with excitement. Many more people than earlier in the day were crowded against the parade barriers, and they were a much more lively bunch. The crowd had gathered for a reason. The floats were more impressive, seemed to be larger, and were carrying a more diverse array of goods to be thrown into the crowd. The late parade is a must if your goal is to truly experience Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebration.
The short weekend in Mobile couldn’t have provided a better feel for the city’s Mardi Gras tradition. Taylor and I got to spend time among the people of Mobile, and we ran into out-of-towners who were drawn to the celebration. While New Orleans may be known for its Mardi Gras celebration, the people of Mobile have a historic tradition of their own to claim.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.