West 2018 Day 1 – Grand Canyon Rim

Saturday 05/12/18


We flew out of Chicago early (6:20) and got to Vegas just before 1:00.  The only real excitement of the trip being the rebooking of the rental car through Costco to add the second driver and the momentary fear that Avis had charged a $150 fee to cancel the previous booking.  They ended up cancelling it with no fee at all, so that was a surprise perk.  Also, I’ll make a recommendation for renting through Costco – it was a better rate, on a slightly nicer car and they include the second driver for no extra cost.

As usual, the first day involved getting supplies (including a secondary supply stop for a gas canister when the first Walmart failed us) which is necessary, but not very exciting.

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Maine 2017 – Acadia Day 5


Northeast Harbor

Saturday was supposed to be our third kayaking day and we headed off toward Somes Sound in the morning.

The automotive gods had a different idea. I had replaced all the Subaru brakes just before the trip and they were still wearing in just a bit, but we started to hear some scraping from the right side of the car. A mile or so later, things started to feel a bit rough and I pulled over to the side of the road. It had seemed that the sound was coming from the front so I checked there first and everything seemed fine. The rear wheel, however, was a different story. Two of the lug nuts had blown off, shearing the studs with them and the other three were loose. We caught them just in time – I’m still not sure how we managed to get 1500 miles through Canada before having issues. I tightened the remaining three and we made our way to the nearest auto store (a NAPA about 8 miles away) for some emergency repairs in their parking lot. Fortunately, I had a small set of tools with us and NAPA had the necessary parts to complete a fix: three studs, three lug nuts and one hacksaw (because I goofed seating one of the studs). A few hours later we were back in business, but plans for the day were slightly delayed.

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Maine 2017 – Acadia Day 4



After two days of kayaking we decided to do a bit of hiking. We went back to the Park Loop and found our way to the Precipice Trail. This was reportedly the most strenuous climb and involved a lot of scrambling and a good number of ladders and ledges. I’m not much for heights, but I like the climbing part so I figured I’d see how far I got before deciding we needed to turn back. We ended up making it to the top – nothing quite so bad as the walking along a ridge style of Angel’s Landing. We descended via the Orange & Black Trail which was the recommended route to avoid a lot of crossing paths and having to navigate around hikers coming up.

Overall the trail wasn’t too bad, but to my entertainment, we crossed paths a few times with a couple who apparently were not in agreement about either how far the hike was going to be or how concerned one of them was about the climbing.  There were several stages of a somewhat stressful debate observed over the course of the hike.

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Maine 2017 – Acadia Day 3



Having scoped out Bar Harbor (8) before, we had an idea of where to park and where to get on the water. We drove down in the morning a bit before high tide and put the kayaks in the water. We had looked up some of the kayak tour routes earlier and somewhat followed one of the paths around Bar Island and near two Porcupine islands. The most common attraction on this paddle was the abundance of buoys connected to lobster traps.

The surprise sighting of the day was a pod of harbor porpoises. We knew they were something to keep any eye out for, but didn’t really expect to have any sightings. We were just over half way to Burnt Porcupine Island having slowed a bit to give a lobster boat some room when a pod of harbor porpoises started surfacing near us. Over the next 10-20 minutes we probably saw and heard a few dozen porpoises surfacing around us. They were mostly pretty quick just coming up to breathe and submerging again, but they did seem to be curious about us and cruising around the area. Janet was able to capture one on video (it’s small, roughly mid screen, right at the end) over her shoulder and got a few pictures, I didn’t have the waterproof camera and was less willing to take chances with my phone on the water. Continue reading

Maine 2017 – Acadia Day 2



With a little planning the night before, we decided to go to the Pretty Marsh area of the island and paddle up the West side. I think we combined two different versions of directions and ended up targeting a launch somewhat North of the marsh itself (10). This lead to some confusion early on as we didn’t seem to be ‘leaving’ the harbor where we expected to start, but instead were just heading up the cost. Fortunately, this wasn’t a navigation test – we were just going to paddle up the coast a bit and then return. Also, there may have been some help from a phone GPS in determining what we were actually doing. Continue reading

Maine 2017 – Acadia Day 1



There’s a one-way driving & biking loop that goes around a good chunk of the park. We started out with that to get a feel for the place. First stop was heading up Cadillac Mountain (3) for a quick walk-hike to the view of the island and Bar Harbor. Our next pull-off was at the Thunder Hole (5) – we happened by right at high tide, which is the right time to be there. We climbed around on the rocks for a bit, but the day was apparently not right for the booming wave crashes that the location was known for.

Parking along the loop was obnoxious, particularly in the prime areas. So long as we had parked for the Thunder Hole, we took a walk back to Sand Beach which is apparently *the* beach in the park. We descended into the little harbor to see the beach, stood around for a bit acknowledging that indeed it was a beach and then headed back. We weren’t really planning on swimming or just laying there, so I’m not exactly sure what else we expected. Continue reading

Maine 2017 – Travel Days


Wellesly Island State Park campsite on the edge of the St. Lawrence River.

We left Grand Rapids around noon on Saturday after taking a bit longer than planned to pack up (aka gather all the paddling gear). We crossed into Canada at the Blue Water Bridge, and then drove pretty much straight through to Thousand Islands National Park and crossed back out to the US at Wellesley Island State Park in New York. It was supposedly about a 8-9 hour drive, but with stops and all, we got to the park just before 11:00. We setup camp, went and showered (it’s a nice campground, with hot showers) and went to bed.


We spent one day at Thousand Islands on the US side. On a combination of our interest in paddling to something notable and the visitor center guide’s recommendation we drove up to Alexandria Bay and put the kayaks in the water at a public boat launch.  It was at the end of Crossman St. and we parked on the street a few blocks away, if you’re wanting to look it up.  This was supposedly one of the few free launches in the area and it did not appear to get especially heavy use.

Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle from the grounds / island entryway

From there we paddled out into the St. Lawrence River and turned right to head toward Boldt Castle. The Castle is on Heart Island, which has a small harbor for private boats to dock as well as the commercial tour docking location. We pulled the kayaks up on shore and locked them to a lamp-post (probably an unnecessary precaution, but given that they were our way off the island it seemed prudent).

Admission to the castle was $10 and we spent the extra to get the audio tour. We spent a few hours walking the grounds, following the audio tour stops. The one line summary is that the entire island, including the four story (accessible, a few more total) castle was built up by George C. Boldt to display his love for his wife Louise. But, as it turns out, Louise died and he immediately stopped all work on the castle, so it was left unfinished and unmaintained for years. Unfortunately, I goofed and erased all my pictures from Heart Island, but it was a neat place to poke around for a bit.

When we got back on the water, we paddled the rest of the way across the St. Lawrence River to the boathouse and then turned upstream (West) to paddle among the many islands.  The only interesting part from a paddling perspective was that right around Stony Crest Island we hit current that was 3-ish MPH – notably different than everywhere else we had paddled. We crossed back to the south side of the river there, but not without getting swept downstream in a stronger current and some standing waves just off of Stony Crest which pushed us back around the East side of the island. This was weird, because the river there didn’t seem any different than anywhere else we had paddled and most places were nearly still.

Once we got to the Southern banks on the river, we continued West some more.  I wasn’t running a GPS, but I think we went about 3.5 miles upstream from the castle. The wind had picked up a good bit as well as the current in some places, and with no specific destination in mind, we turned back somewhere around the mouth of Swan Bay. The trip back was faster, being down wind, down current and having fewer islands to thread through.

The drive back to camp took us by a small town, and I had packed some frozen venison chunks, so we stopped off at a grocery store and got some vegetables and skewers, returned to the campground and made a fantastic sunset shishkebab dinner.

Venison kebabs for dinner. Grand Rapids back-yard Bambi!


The next day we headed out crossing back into Canada to continue toward Maine. We first spent a bit of time attempting to scope out some additional paddling right near the campground, but our attempt to find a launch led us down a long dirt road ending in a cluster of private residences with no water access in sight.  Thousand Islands was about in the middle of the trip, so there was another 8-9 hours drive to get to Acadia anyway.  We made it to Mt. Desert Island kind of late and checked into our nice little room at the Belle Island Hotel which was going to serve as our home for the next week.

Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 5 – Sunrise and Travel

Most of the last day is taken with the drive home, but we did get up early and go catch sunrise from a new spot.  This time, just after (heading to Tennessee) the Newfound Gap Overlook.  Since we didn’t do much Sunday, I’ll use this post as a wrap up.

  • Wednesday night – drive to Gatlinburg
  • Thursday – hike Huskey Gap Trail, early night, no sunset
  • Friday – hike Rainbow Falls, Aquarium in the afternoon, dinner at Smoky Mountain Brewery
  • Saturday – hike Mt. Cammerer, Sunset Photography
  • Sunday – sunrise photography, hike Grotto Falls, hike Laurel Falls, Cades Cove
  • Monday – sunrise photography, return trip

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Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 4 – Grotto Falls, Laurel Falls, Cade’s Cove


We started early on Saturday and went up to Clingman’s dome for a chilly (as expected) sunrise.

After that, we headed over to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to the Grotto Falls trail head.  It’s a moderate hike and climb at 2.6 miles round trip with 585 ft of elevation.  We had been there once before on the first trip to the Smokies and were not able to visit on the second due to the Motor Trail being closed that time.  Grotto falls is a neat one in that you can walk behind the falls.  With a little bit of scrambling into the river below, you can also get a pretty well aligned shot of the falls.

The second stop was at Laurel Falls en route to Cades Cove.  Laurel is an easy hike, 1.15 miles, all paved (somewhat poorly in places) to a more pour-over type falls.  There’s also the option to scramble around a bit at the falls to get down to the second level and again out into the river a bit.

This trip up was special – we found a black bear cub just before the top of the trail.  It was down over the steep edge of the trail, so it was hard to see and hard to get pictures of. Continue reading

Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 3 – Mt. Cammerer

Despite avoiding the weather the evening before, day three was the real day of questionable weather.  Having been to the park a few times before, and wanting to explore something new, we took a drive to the Eastern end of the park to hike up Mt. Cammerer.  I think we were a bit guided by the theory that it was going to be the drier side of the park.

The East side of the park may have been drier, but it was not dry.  The hike starts heading up through a campground and then along the river.  For the first mile or so it was dry, but then it started to rain lightly and more or less kept on dripping until we were maybe a mile form the peak.  At the top, we were reminded that the visibility from within a cloud is very limited, so whatever view we might have been hiking to was to remain a mystery.  On the up side, there is a mostly whole fire watch station at the top, so we had a chance to sit down, dry out a bit and wait for the rain to pass. Continue reading