Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains early in the fall was the perfect time to see the complete beauty of the season. Even though we went during the first cold snap of the year, it was delightful to wander through the forest. We traveled along the Deep Creek trail and admired the trees and the distant mountain tops that would periodically peek through them.
Our campsite was positioned beside the creek with a path to the water. Massive boulders littered the banks and made for perfect platforms for observing the stars. Sleeping under those stars with the lullaby of gushing water was the most perfect way to fall asleep.
Hiking down the trail early in the morning before the fog had lifted made the forest seem mystical. It seemed as though we were the first ones awake and moving that morning. As we quietly hiked the last few miles of our journey, we felt grateful that we had been able to spend the time we did in such a wonderful place.
We can’t wait to go back and do more, longer hikes through the national park. 'Til next time Smoky Mountains!
The Highlight of Osceola Missouri
There is a place in Missouri virtually midway between Springfield and Kansas City on Highway 13 that is what my dreams are made of. This place is called The Osceola Cheese Factory.
The cheese factory has hundreds of cheeses available for tasting and purchase. I find more satisfaction with every visit. The cheese factory also sells a variety of summer sausages, crackers, and cheese accessories (so you can eat it in the car immediately after purchase like Taylor and I did). If there’s a small chance you find yourself in south Missouri and you love cheese, do yourself a favor and pull over at the Osceola Cheese Factory.
Birthday Weekend in Nashville
Nashville is one of my favorite cities. I love going there for any occasion, but going to celebrate a friend's 21st birthday may be my favorite. Thankfully, our party included friends who lived just outside of the city, so we were able to stay there and catch Ubers to and from downtown.
To start off our weekend, we went to Desano’s Pizza. The main reason we went was to bring our own wine, but we stayed for the delicious pizza. Once there was nothing left of the two large pizzas, we walked over to a few bars on Demonbreun Street before heading to Broadway Street.
We had to hit some of our favorite Broadway bars: Tequila Cowboy, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, and The Stage. After we boot scooted our way through a few whiskey drinks, we were in need of some late night eats. We satisfied our cravings with tacos, chips, and guacamole dip at some mysterious late night spot.
We got up Saturday morning and grabbed brunch downtown at 417 Union, then we walked around Broadway street to do some shopping. After going home and taking naps, we got ready for the night and went over to “The Gulch” to eat dinner at Bar Taco. We had a few margaritas and enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere until we were able to get up from the table.
We headed back down to Broadway Street and were having a great time until I lost my debit card. From there, the night faded, and we found a way home fairly early in the night.
We were all hurting a little bit Sunday morning, so we decided to go our separate ways and say, 'see ya later!' Another great Nashville weekend in the books.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is a special place whose uniqueness I could've never understood before visiting. The monstrous plateau and breath-taking wilderness are incredible enough, but the ancient dwellings hiding among the cliffs are the most impressive aspects.
Taylor and I were a little too late to get tickets for a tour of the largest collection of dwellings, The Cliff Palace, but we were able to get tickets for the second largest tour, The Balcony House. Even though it was smaller, it cannot be less impressive.
Our National Park Ranger —whose name Taylor and I regretfully cannot recall—was the most knowledgeable and experienced that we’ve had on any national park tour yet. His knowledge of the dwellings and the Native Americans of that time and place was quite impressive. Walking through these structures and hearing the National Park Service's best guess as to how the people constructed these homes and lived is surreal. There is so much that no one knows, including why they came and why they left. Mystery abounds in these dwellings.
For those too late to claim a spot on a tour or for those who prefer walking at their own pace, there are several areas that do not require a guided tour. Taylor and I leisurely explored the remains of The Step House. We saw ancient corn cobs, ceremony rooms called kivas, and recreated pit-houses.
No matter what dwelling you are able to visit, take your camera and your curiosity.
Mammoth Cave Do's and Don'ts
Mammoth Cave is a true wonder of the world, as recognized by the National Park Service and the United Nations. What makes it so special? It is the largest cave system in the world; this thing is over 300 miles long!!
We had a wonderful weekend; but in hindsight there are a few things that we will change when we go back. The beauty and magnitude of the cave was worth all the troubles.
Our first mistake happened long before we arrived at the park.
Mistake #1 – We went at the wrong time
Since the cave system is so ginormous, there are lots and lots of bats who call the cave their home. During certain times of the year, parts of the cave are closed to the public. We went one week into the winter season and only had three tours to choose from. There are much longer tours we would have rather taken, but we picked what seemed to be the best tour being offered at the time.
Mistake #2 – We didn’t get our tickets ahead of time
The national park website must have reassured us three or four times that the tours rarely sell out and they always have plenty of tour times. The reassurance would turn out to be misleading. We got there around 9:30 AM expecting to get on the 10 am tour. We found that the next three tour times were sold out, so we had to pick the only time offered before our reservation to kayak the Lost River Cave just outside of the park.
Outside of those minor setbacks, we did do a few things right!
Good Move #1 – We picked an awesome tour
The Domes and Dripstones tour was incredible, and we recommend it for anyone looking for an easy, guided tour. Click here to learn about the specifics of our tour and our trip
Good Move #2 – We hiked to Green River
Our mistakes allowed us extra time on park property, so we hiked some of the 80+ miles of trails. We chose a trail from the visitor's center that wasn’t too long. That trail happened to lead us to the beautiful Green River. It was cool to see the river that would be credited with creating the very cave we toured.
Good Move #3 – We didn't take the doggie
After our problems at other national parks, including Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we knew it was a good idea to leave Maria at home. As much as she would’ve loved the weather and the wild hiking trails, the bats and other animals of the caves would have rescinded her welcome.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park has several areas that cater to visitors, but Taylor and I decided to spend our trip on the southern rim. The Rim Trail on the southern side is a leisurely walk through time, but Taylor and I had to journey into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. No matter the perspective, the canyon's harrowing heights, beautifully striped walls, and sheer size are absolutely breathtaking.
The Rim Trail is scattered with dates and information. As we walked, we learned about the sediments and causes of each of the canyon's layers. We spotted several deer and several places to explore the rim beyond the educational path. Crowded and fenced overlooks near the visitor's center are no comparison to the ledges and sights to be found along the trail. We thought looking at the canyon from above was mesmerizing, but the views from inside would be even more incredible.
We set out on the Bright Angel Trail in the heat of the day and had our breath taken away by its difficulty and scenery. After countless descending switchbacks, we managed to reach Indian Gardens at the four and one half mile mark.
Indian Gardens provided a great change of scenery from layers of ancient rock to lush, green desert flora. I had not understood the height of the canyon's walls until I stood beneath them. Even though we didn't make it to the Colorado River, the change in perspective encouraged our appreciation of this Grand Canyon.
It was a special place to be even when we realized that it was time for the trek back up. Needless to say, our legs were not prepared for it. I won't say which of us needed to take more breaks, but we both needed to use the rim's ice cream shop for motivation. We gazed down with pride upon reaching the top but soon realized that our motivational ice cream shop had closed for the evening.
One Night in Chattanooga
I grew up going to Chattanooga, TN for field trips and lacrosse tournaments, but John had never been until late last fall. We stopped for the night on our way to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The night before we arrived, we booked our stay at the Red Bank Charm Inn through Air BnB (Get credits towards your stay with this code: www.airbnb.com/c/johnd9471). We dropped off our bag, called an Uber, and headed downtown to Urban Stack for a delicious dinner.
After stuffing ourselves with juicy burgers, we drank a few more beers at The Chattanooga Brewery and played a couple of great board games until they closed. We got a great night’s sleep and woke up early enough to beat the crowds at one of the best brunch places in town.
The scrumptious and fluffy pancakes at Aretha Frankenstein’s were the perfect ending to our 12 hour stay in Chattanooga. We can’t wait to go back and spend more time in this amazing city. Next time, we want to try the hang gliding offered at Lookout Mountain.
One Stop in Durango Colorado
After basking in the glory of the ancient ancestors at Mesa Verde National Park, John and I started a 12-hour trek home to Dallas, TX. The drive included a quick yet delightful lunch stop at The Diamond Belle Saloon in Durango, Colorado. After we'd washed down our colossal burgers with a local brew, we needed to get our legs moving before we hit the road again.
We walked around this beautiful ski town and window shopped in the local store fronts. There had been some bike races a few hours before we arrived, so the streets were filled with bicycles. It was nice to explore the bustling town before we hopped back in the car to finish our journey home.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
After watching BBC’s Planet Earth episode on caves, John and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Carlsbad Caverns on our first trip out west, and this National Park did not disappoint.
Although we didn’t get to see the 'Chandelier Room' or some other parts of the cave, we did see an incredible cave system. We took our time wandering through the pathways of cave, taking pictures and wondering about the creation of these magnificent rock formations.
Those thoughts were quickly halted as the park ranger told us to hurry along. The park was closing, so we snapped a few last pics, hopped on the elevator, and grabbed Maria from the kennel service.
Outside of the cave, we wandered the park property and viewed the natural entrance. The entrance was closed while we were there, but we stopped for pictures. We walked around for a little while longer, then we had to leave. The dog would have disturbed the bats when they came out at dusk.
On your way out, we recommend taking the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive loop and walking the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail. This was a beautiful snippet of nature tucked away on a hill side rife cacti and scurrying animals.
We recommend everyone check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park and the nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park!
Outside of the cave we wandered the park property and viewed the natural entrance, which was closed when we were there, but we still stopped and took some pictures. We walked around till for a little while longer but then we had to leave because the dog would disturb the bats who come out at dusk.
On your way out we recommend taking the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive loop and walking the Rattlesnake Canyon Trail; it was a beautiful snippet of nature tucked away in the hill side with lots of cacti and little animals to look at.
We recommend everyone checks out Carlsbad Caverns National Parks and stop by the near by Guadalupe Mountains National Park – which we totally missed out on!
Mammoth Cave National Park
One chilly weekend late in the fall, John and I had opportunity to go to Mammoth Cave National Park just outside of Bowling Green, KY. Our weekend was jam packed with visiting friends, exploring the mysterious caves, and getting to eat at some local restaurants, but the national park itself was definitely the main focus.
We couldn’t help but start to marvel at the beauty of the park as soon as we arrived on the property. The wonderfully wooded drive from the interstate to the visitor center provided us with a great welcome and excited us for the rest of the visit to the caves.
Before our Domes and Dripstones tour, we went from the visitor’s center to the historic entrance trail and marveled at the beauty of the natural entrance while walking in as far as we could. From the natural entrance, we connected to the Dixon cave trail and overlooked the cave as best we could while the bats were hibernating. We then connected to the Green River Bluffs Trail and looped back to the visitors’ center from the Dixon Cave trail.
We wish we had known about the River Styx and the trail we could’ve taken from the Green River Bluffs trail, but we knew little about the importance of the river until after our tour.
We chose the Domes and Dripstones tour, because it included everything we wanted to see. To read about some mistakes we made on our trip, click here. When we booked the tour, the sound of over 500 stairs was a bit intimidating, but don’t let it throw you off. They are mostly descending stairs and the beauty that they will lead you too is well worth every step.
At the beginning of the tour, our guide gave us a lot of history about the cave’s natural entrance, the property itself, and the designation of national park and world heritage site. As we descended into the cave, we talked more about the rivers that carve the caverns and the animals that live in the pitch dark depths.
The way the stalactites hang from the ceilings in the 'Drapery Room' made me feel like I was in a beautifully decorated room, but the 'Frozen Niagara' was the main attraction of the the tour. This wonder is truly a beautiful marvel. Just standing there marveling at its size you realize how long it must've taken to make such a thing. My own life felt a bit insignificant on that lengthy timeline.
After the 'Frozen Niagara', the tour is pretty much over. You'll take a few flights of stairs up to the surface and take the bus back to the visitor center. John and I marveled about the cave even after we'd hit the road for our next adventure.
Weekend in Bowling Green, KY
After leaving late one Friday afternoon, John and I arrived at our first stop on our way to Bowling Green, Kentucky. After a night of bbq, boot scootin’, and other shenanigans on Broadway Street we left Nashville at sunrise for Mammoth Cave National Park.
Before we got to the park, we had a quick but delicious breakfast at Home Café. I had cinnamon toast crunch waffles and John had blueberry banana pancakes. After gorging ourselves with a wonderfully sugary breakfast, we arrived at the National Park’s welcome center. (Read about our disappointment with tickets here.) We took an enjoyable hike around the visitor’s center to kill some time before our Domes and Dripstones tour through Mammoth Cave.
Our tour was an hour and a half of extravagantly beautiful and natural wonderment a couple of hundred feet below ground. This included the famous 'Frozen Niagara' which was is arguably as impressive at the real Niagara Falls when the minerals, pressure, water, and time required to make such an impressive structure is considered!
After all the fun at the national park, we rushed over to our late afternoon reservation at Lost River Cave. We were greeted by our friendly hosts and a little history of the cave and its surrounding area. Our quick trip down the smaller-than-expected river wouldn’t have been as eventful had I not fallen out of the kayak and into the freezing cold water!!! The workers at the Lost River Cave were very helpful with the drying process, and John got me to our Airbnb before I became a popsicle!
Ms. Debbie at The Hickory Springs Air BnB was a wonderful hostess. She let me machine dry my clothes and recommended we head to Double Dawgs to watch the Ole Miss football game. We were ready to head home and get a good night’s sleep after good wings and a few brews at Double Dogs.
The next morning we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast spread before Debbie told us about a cave and rope swing on her property. The last hour of casually exploring the property was the perfect way to end a wonderful weekend in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Valentine's Weekend in Baton Rouge
Last year’s Valentine’s Day weekend was spent with John, my dad, and my sister in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My dad was there coaching TCU’s lacrosse team, so we made the short drive down to watch them play several games and hang out with my family.
On Friday, we drove straight down to my dad’s lacrosse game and arrived with just enough time to tell him hello and find my sister in the crowd. After the game, the entire team, coaching staff, and our crew went to T J Ribs for some great barbecue.
Saturday afternoon was jam-packed with activities. We got up early that morning, grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel, and headed toward campus. As we strolled around under the oak trees and looked at the Italian-styled academic buildings, we couldn’t help but compare our own college experiences to the ones we might’ve had at Louisiana State University. After spending some time on the Parade Ground observing the Frisbee players and sharing a few relaxed conversations, we walked toward Tiger stadium to see the football field and Mike the Tiger. We didn’t ignore the opportunity to see the awesome statue of Shaquille O’neal at the PMAC basketball arena once we'd had our fill of Tiger football monuments.
Touring the campus had worked up an appetite in us all, so we met a friend of mine at Sammy’s Grill. We had a traditional, Cajun-style meal complete with crawfish, beer, and bread pudding. Afterwards, we headed back to campus to cheer on TCU in their remaining lacrosse games. Winning really builds up an appetite, so we took my dad to The Chimes and enjoyed a few mid-afternoon brews while he enjoyed a big, juicy burger.
We went to Reggie’s that evening and enjoyed happy hour specials at the dive-bar scene. Later that night, we met up with some of the TCU players at Tigerland. We were skeptical of how much we’d enjoy Tigerland at first, but we ended up staying until the morning.
We said our goodbyes to my dad and sister on Sunday after another hotel breakfast. This quick trip to Baton Rouge turned out to be a great weekend with great food, friends, and family.
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.