To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Of Reefs and Jungles - My Trip to Belize

Belize has been a bucket list trip since college. I had classes that spoke of its conservation efforts, others that spoke of the reef, and others that used it as an example of successful ecotourism that balanced the needs of nature with the needs of the economy.  On travel lists, I often see the Blue Hole listed.  In reading about our endangered global rainforests, Belize is called out as a safer place to see them.  And let's face it, my eco-loving heart wanted to get up close and personal to some amazing sites.  Belize was a must see!

Enter Groupon teasers.  After our ride through Groupon false advertising this spring, I was a bit more cautious ... but I this time I did not just jump at a good deal, I looked up offers on many sites,  looked for commentary, and relied on 3rd party pictures.  You can't trust the reviews on Groupon itself, but after seeing outside reviews, we were ready to try again... with that, I purchased a deal for a type of vacation I have never taken before... we were to stay on a small island off the coast.  Wow, are we soooo glad we took advantage of this opportunity.

We stayed at the Yok Ha Resort, 25 miles of the coast of central Belize and Dangriga.  This meant we needed 2 planes, a shuttle and a boat... and about 8 hours of travel.  But once we got off that boat on Waterfoot Caye, all our worries washed away - the resort was adorable.  Bright Caribbean colors, conch shells accents, hibiscus flowers growing in the garden, individual bungalows, sea birds, sea stars right off the dock...  and the staff... wow, as soon as we pulled up - the drinks, the food, the service... it really was "Welcome to Paradise."  And to prove the point, that first night's dinner was lobster freshly caught from the reef!
 Our trip was 4 nights on the Caye and 1 night in Belize City.  I really wanted to see what Belize had to offer so I booked tours!  All different kinds of tours.  For a small country, there was a lot to see! 

On our first full day on the island, we hit the water. This was the day I was finally getting out on the Meso-American Reef.  We were going to island hop a few cayes to see the Tobacco Range and then we were snorkeling.    Our first stop was Bird Caye - and hundreds of birds.  We saw Frigates, Bobbies, Cormorants, and Pelicans.  It is Frigate mating season, so we actually got to see males all puffed out for display.  In the bird world, I like to say that the males wear the make-up, and with these guys, that red throat is better than rouge.  But getting the girl isn't enough, because once a egg is hatched, that male must guard the nest because the bobbies will steal the chick for food.  Nature can be cruel and Frigates pick on Cormorants in the air and steal their food.  It seemed that the only ones out of this cycle were the pelicans.  Brown Pelicans to be more exact.  They stayed on the outside of the island, overlooking the water, seemingly not concerned with the antics of the Frigates... honestly, what does a pelican want with a bird that can't get wet!  Pelicans are the dive-bombers of the sea!

After some quality birding, we headed into the water.  And I am still gobsmacked by the sights I saw.  I have never seen that amount of coral alive and well - Purple Fan (and regular), Elk Horn, Staghorn, Brain, Boulder, Tubes, LeafPlates,  sponges, and, yes, Fire Coral.  That is not to say that the whole reef is healthy... I have read plenty that warns those that care about what is happening to our underwater gardens...
Nurse Shark
 but in the areas I was, I did not see evidence of coral bleaching.  I also so a healthy diversity of sea life.  As I swam around, I got to hear the crunch of the Parrotfish, and watched them scatter around the reef, we saw schools of wrasse, grunts and Sargent Majors. I followed a squirrelfish or 2 trying to get a picture.  I was patient with the French Angelfish as they moved their thin bodies through the branch coral.  I saw puffers, blue tangs and triggerfish.  We spotted a ray. 
Parrotfish munching
 And then, there was the lionfish...  so many damn lionfish.  These guys may be pretty but they don't belong here.  They have no predators, and they are eating their way through the ecosystem... so while we were snorkeling, 2 others from the resort were spearfishing for lobsters (dinner), and they put the spears to good use taking a few out.  Just not enough... (please don't release your aquarium fish in the water).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Looking Foward to that Caribbean Blue

I think everyone is ready for a vacation this time of year... and as I have written, my trip to St Croix was postponed (really cancelled) due to hurricanes. We rallied and rebooked to Belize.  I haven't been there, and it was on my list, so this was a decent alternative. But....

Funny thing is my vacation is just around the corner and another tropical depression has formed... I have my eye on you!  I get on that plane soon - Do not go messing with Belize! 

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Quick Weekend in the Mile High City

For years I traveled regularly to Denver.  The area holds a special place in my travel loving heart.  It is gorgeous country.  So many national parks are nestled into that area, to say nothing about the stunning national forests, the cute mountain towns, the sweeping majesty of the Rockies.  It is a nature lover's dream.  The area is also filled with friends.  Friends, so close that I consider them family, call the area home.  A weekend is never enough to see everyone. Sadly, it was all that I cold fit in the schedule this year.

I have grand plans for visits to Denver and the surrounding area.  I have a list of things I want to see and do even after living there for half a year on a work detail (and traveling there a lot for work). My plan has been to knock something out each time I visited... but it doesn't always work out.  Shame really because I have some goodies on there, and some places that have been on my list for almost a decade (Dinosaur National Monument, Devils Tower, Aspen & Vail, another visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and more).  This trip was not that kind of trip.  This was to visit two amazing friends on incredible journeys; two friends that are a testament to strength and courage (and health insurance).  Longer trips can wait.   I had priorities.  I needed to check in with my mentor/Denver-mom, cancer ass-kicking Wonder Woman Sue and my amazing strongly, athletic, snarky, fun loving, cancer ass-kicking friend, Megan. 

So less than a week after I returned from my Lake Tahoe trip, I was back on a plane.  If you fly into or out of the Rockies, you know that you are in for some turbulence.... and this trip did not disappoint.  Our 3.5 hour flight was extended by over an hour since the plane tried to fly around an epic thunderstorm.  A storm so big I swear I watched lightening dance across the sky for a half hour.  Zeus was fighting with someone up there because huge bolts streaked across the clouds with a vicious frequency that it was almost hypnotic.  We skirted around most of the storm but flew into the edges as we made our approach into Denver and bounced around so much your stomach entered your throat (and no, I don't get motion sick).

After a good night's sleep, I was ready to hit the ground running.  First up - Sue.

Sue and I have a pattern.  We walk through Cherry Creek, the Botanical Gardens, the Art Museum.  She shook things up this time and surprised me with tickets to the Ballet!  Sue and I share a passion for the arts, and she is an active supporter of the Denver Arts community, but heading downtown is not what we typically do... but she is full of surprises. The Colorado Ballet was staging a production of Dracula - perfect for that time of year.  I have yet to see it performed.  This was a treat to say the least. It had been a year since I have seen a proper ballet and even longer since I patronized the Colorado Ballet Company. 

Before the big event, we headed into the LODO district to share some food and catch up.  Being a beautiful day, we sat outside... and we treated to sound checks for the Beer Festival.  We could barely head each other most of the time.  We rushed through stories in between instruments and laughed because what else could be do.  It is always a memorable date with Sue. 

After a wonderful time watching a sensual, sexy, hauntingly beautiful performance of Dracula, we wandered a bit to find a place for a drink and conversation!  This time, no sound checks!  And when she was ready, I brought her home and headed out to Golden to Megan.

I arrived in time for dinner with the family and some more catch up conversation.  We spent the next day together outside.  We went for a walk down along the river, we took pictures of butterflies, and soaked in the sun.  Our imaginary game of baseball with her son was parlayed into a true game of 1-on-1 whiffle ball that evening. 
The family took me to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, not for a show, but just to appreciate its beauty... Red Rocks has been on my list for a long while, I think since I got that Dave Mathews CD - Live at Red Rocks.  The sound was amazing.  And I do love an outdoor concert.  And while there was no concert there, we were treated to a woman playing her cello.  It was heavenly. 

After hoofing the endless stairs, enjoying the music and wandering the museum, I was surprised with a trip to the famed Morison buffalo herd.  They were close to the viewing area, so I got to soak up some prime American West scenery!  I really wanted to capture that perfect shot of the fall leaves with the mountains and bison... I tried!  I was happy with this sweeping vista.

Back home, the family cooked for me while I got to act like a kid with the kid!  We danced to Ricky Martin while we played with Legos.  Can I get paid to do this all the time?

Gorgeous weather did the gold ole' Denver twist and turned on me though.  After 2 days of beautiful 70 degree days, a blizzard rolled into town that evening and by the next morning it was a sea of white.  Crazy storms coming and going .... that is Denver. 

And that was a weekend visiting 2 very important people.  They kicked cancer's ass and are living their lives to the fullest.  I love them both!  Until next year... I swear I will stay longer!  I swear! 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Don't Forget the Caribbean/Replacement Vacation Planning

Anyone that has followed the news (really just been paying attention at all), knows that the Caribbean was decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  And when I say decimated, that is not Jersey exaggeration... island nations have been completely ripped apart.  People lost everything!  Island's environments were laid bare.  It is a tragedy of epic proportions. 

[I encourage any reader here to think about these communities and reach into their pocket.  There are so many charities, so many ways to help.  Some focus on specific islands.  Some on specific communities.  Some on specific issues. Whatever you do - HELP!]

Due to hurricane devastation, my much-anticipated trip to St Croix was cancelled.  There was no way to avoid this.  This trip was to mark the 100th anniversary of the US Virgin Islands becoming part of the United States.  I had planned a week exploring the towns, the environment- I booked a food tour, a hike, a kayak tour, a snorkeling adventure and more.  I have been planning this trip for a long time.

Yet, my loss in losing my vacation is but a frustration and inconvenience.  For those islands, this marks the start of a long journey back. They have a lot of work to do.  We must not forget them and their plight!   I will visit when they are ready.  These islands that depend on tourist jobs will need many travelers to make the decision to come back.  Until then, I will be sending assistance in various forms.  I sent money to organizations to provide immediate relief  from the Red Cross and the Humane Society to Ricky Martin's Fund for Puerto Rico, Global Giving for Puerto Rico.  I also adopted a family through http://www.adoptafamilyusvi.com/  In the box, we packed up emergency supplies like bug spray, mosquito nets, water filters, flashlights, tarps, snacks, clothes, towels, toiletries, first aid kits and more.

This was the best way I could think to help. And through various other amazon lists, you can add more to shipments... like toothbrushes and paste!  When everything is lost, everything is needed.  Dig deep people!

I will continue helping ...but I also need a vacation!  After looking at options and playing with plans in various locales... we tried the Groupon route again.  Options in the Caribbean are very limited (obviously).  But there are a few deals out there in Central America.  After looking at our last minute options, we decided on Belize! 

The more I think about it, the more excited I get.  Belize was on my wish list.  I wanted to see the tropical rain forest. I have head wonderful things about the beaches. People have told me how gorgeous the country is, and that it should be on my short list.  The idea of Belize was always out there, but I never looked into it more than that.  It was just a name on my list.  But there was Groupon, with a shiny deal that looked amazing.

But after our hotel fiasco in Mexico, I needed to do more due diligence.  I looked at the resort on-line; I read reviews on various travel sites (not just Groupon).  I priced out airfare to Belize City and then fare to Dangagria.  And then I bit the bullet.  We are headed to Belize's Yok Ha Resort for 4 nights!  I might tack on a night in Belize City too.

Where we are headed offers me the chance to headed into a Jaguar Sanctuary!  We could also see more Mayan ruins!  My camera is in for a new workout. They offer cave tubing. Kayaking. Snorkeling.  Hiking.  There is a lot to plan, but the Groupon is purchased.... fingers crossed I can use some United miles!

The plan is to head to Belize in early December.  It may not be a week in St Croix, but it is still something new... and I love exploring new places!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Not Just Another Pretty Lake

The last time I was in Reno was about 15 years ago.  I didn't see much outside of the "biggest small city" mostly because I was speaking at a conference and did not have a car; I was dependent on others.  Someone promised me a trip to Lake Tahoe and it never happened.  I have remained bitter all these years ... finally that unfulfilled trip is checked off! 

A girlfriend was on detail in Reno and asked me if I wanted to visit... YES, absolutely!  Sign me up! How perfect was this opportunity? - I was going to see a friend, stay at her place, she would have a car AND I would get out of the casino zone.  And the biggest surprise?  The weather was gorgeous!  For 2 straight days, it was clear skies and no freak storms to ruin the trip.  Maybe Zeus, Hera (and the Theoi Meteoroi) are taking pity on me, finally. 

My trip to Reno marked the start of a crazy fall season.  I have 4 weekends in a row planned - Reno, Denver/Golden, Fort Lauderdale and New Jersey.  I did do this on purpose, it just all fell on top of each other - see friends, a concert, a baby shower.  Reno started me out just right.

My friend picked me up at the airport at midnight Friday, west coast time.  Already it was 3am on my clock BUT this was after a week of working the 4am shift at the hurricane desk, so I was drowning in exhaustion.  She drove me to a store to buy a toothbrush ...I was convinced I forgot one - (I did not).  We got to her cute temporary home and I crashed.  I don't remember much beyond her doggies smelling my sneaks (that I was sure smelled heinous). 

The next day, we headed out to a legendary Reno/Sparks breakfast at the Squeeze In.  Tessa had been name dropping this place since I planned the visit. This was the quirky "it" place to go.  And judging by the line we waited in, she was not wrong.  She put us on the waiting list before we even got there... but it did not matter, the line was HUGE.  After being locked away for work for weeks, I soaked up the sun and chuckled at the abundance of aliens all around (I now need to look up Reno's alien history because they obviously have one).  After waiting in a lengthy line, I was salivating for some yummy food.  The menu was overwhelming, but made the choices work for us.  We tried the famous pancakes, I had twice baked eggs and she had some benedict concoction, we shared fresh fruit, and we split a slice of the chocolate covered bacon.  I wasn't in love with the bacon, but the pancakes had me.  I would order more of those in a heart-beat.  Perfectly fluffy and full of sour dough flavor  Yum-Yum!

With full tummies, off we went through the mountains to see THE LAKE.  I was so excited.  And as we rounded a mountain road switchback and crested a hill, there it was... sparkling.  And HUGE!  I seriously did not have any idea what I was going to see.  Of course I have seen pictures, but pictures never do grandeur justice.  This was  one of those instances.  The lake is massive.  And it is BLUE.  Not kinda blue. Not a soft shade.  But Crayola Box Blue.  They need to name a color after it.  Tahoe Blue.  Make it a thing people!  We pulled off at a scenic overlook to take some pictures and to get the bird's eye view... and that is when I realized my camera's memory card was filled.  AGH! Photography 101 failed.  I was no stuck taking these grand pics on my iphone (until I realized I had plenty of room on the card if I deleted some duplicate or bad pics). So while my first overview shots of the lake were with a phone, I had plenty of time at this treasure with my camera. 

Lake Tahoe State Park - Nevada
First stop on our lake tour was the Lake Tahoe Visitor's Center  in Incline Village.  There we grabbed a bunch of pamphlets on hiking trails and boat tours, and I got my postcards (I swear I help keep the post office in business).  We then headed to Tahoe State Park.  There I was gobsmacked with the similarity to The Baths at the British Virgin Islands.  I swear, they look similar - the water, the boulders, the greenery.  It was awesome.  One BIG, I mean HUGE, difference was the water temperature.  I was able to stick my feet in Lake Tahoe.  I promise you, it is cold.  Frigid is more like it.  They say that it is about 70 degrees on the surface in the summer.  Below the thermal line, it is in the 40's. 
British Virgin Islands
The Baths National Park
I am not sure what it was when I stuck my feet in, but they were numb for a while.  I marveled once again at the young kids playing in the cold water with their purple lips... but I remember growing up in North Jersey taking swimming lessons in our lakes.  I swear kids just run hotter. 

British Virgin Islands
The Baths National Park
Tessa and I hung out at Sand Lake Beach for a while.  I walked through the water, playing with angles to with the camera.  I wanted to really get that blue.  But it wasn't just the blue, it was the crispness of the water.  It is so clear.  Incredibly clear.  Perfectly clear.  I wanted to understand why, so we headed to the state park science center to learn about the water.  We learned the water clarity does over 70 feet deep!  That the scale used to measure clarity was made because of Lake Tahoe - the Secchi Scale, a simple black and white disc lowered into the water until you can't see it.  Simple! 

After soaking up some sun, we wanted to walk a trail along the shore... And it was on this trail that you got to really see the clarity of the water.  Boulders sitting underneath the surface were perfectly visible.  The water's color changed slightly from the rocks.  And with the blue mountains in the background, the scenery was picture perfect.  So perfect that a wedding was out along the trail taking pictures.  They weren't bouldering along rock crevices, mind you, but I am sure that they will have an amazing photo album. 

We hopped back in the car and headed over to the California side of the Lake, to grab some food and check out King's Beach.  Word on the Street was that the leaves were changing right on the lake.  So, off we went to the long pier.  We watched a black lab beg for a Frisbee to be thrown into the water over and over.  We laughed at another pooch that was a fan of the lab as well - he had his own cheering section.  This dog could swim!  
We returned to the Lake the next day for more fun... This time we headed to the Southern end of the Lake.  We booked a tour on the water.  It was officially the end of the season and all the boats were taking on last horah.  Because the weather was so gorgeous, almost everything was sold out.  We got so lucky and found a spot on a happy hour cruise.  2 hours on the water. It was glorious.  It was here that I finally understood the saying Keep Tahoe Blue.   The water is so perfect that the Sierra Nevada's look blue as well.  The whole area takes on a blue hue. 

I ask why this area is not a national park.  I get the politics.  I get the history, but I still have to ask.  Isn't there a concern that development will ruin this?  State parks just are not big enough.  And that water clarity will disappear in a heart beat if erosion  on the banks ticks up... Tahoe is gorgeous because it is unspoiled beauty.  It might be an issue worth revisiting down the road. 


Friday, September 22, 2017

So, I had a Trip Booked To St Croix

The weather has been rough to the Caribbean lately... and that is putting it mildly.  So many gorgeous islands have been ripped to shreds by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. So before I go any further, I urge any reader to think about the island communities and give to any number of charities out there... there are many!

This past winter I went on a trip that afforded me opportunities to see many of these islands, some for the first time - US Virgin Island (St Thomas), British Virgin Islands (Tortola and Virgin Gorda), St Marteen, Dominica... I am grateful I got to see them - and see more than just the beach by the cruise ship.  On each, I went out into the island.  I went hiking.  I experienced their market places.  And yes, I hit the beach.   This November, I had booked myself a getaway on St Croix.  This was to be my last US territory off the east coast, my last US Virgin Island (not to say I did not want to see the islands again). This year marks the 100th anniversary of the USVI becoming part of the US.   I planned the trip for 6 days with a fantastic literary of snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, golfing, food touring and having fun/destressing. I have been looking forward to this for ages.

But Hurricane Maria had other plans. 

My trip is in disarray.  And that is small potatoes compared to what these island communities are facing.  I have been in touch with locals (from tours I had booked), making sure they are okay... news seems to be that the island is a mixed bag.  Our food tour acknowledges that things are not good in Christensted and that the locals need time to regroup.  But, our kayak tour remains hopeful that they can reopen in October.  At this time I have not heard from our hotel, but a local contact promises to go see for me.  Pictures out of the island paint a grim portrait of the state of Fredericksted. 

I don't know yet what we are going to do.  These islands need support so much will depend on the hotel, reports on safety and the flight.  I do know that everyone is being as accommodating as possible. 

If we don't go now, we will go when they are ready. 

And if you are interested, here is the name of a local USVI charity that will help with the rebuilding.  https://www.usvirecovery.org/

Two days In the Maryland Panhandle

When you think of states with panhandles, you can easily name Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho, but there is one much closer to home... Maryland.  I have never been into the Maryland panhandle - it is close, but not too close...a 3.5 hour drive.  It warrants some planning.  And after my best friend suggested I check out Deep Creek Lake, on the western edge of the panhandle months ago, its been on my list. 

Enter a Labor Day that happened upon us way too quickly and I did not have anything planned.  The weather was cold and stormy on Saturday but it was supposed to clear up.  We did not want to let that last bit of summer slip by.  We had to do something.  After some quick googling, I found a last minute room for a great rate in Deep Creek for Sunday night... our short road trip was planned.  We would figure things out along the way, and knew there was bound to be enough to keep us occupied for a 2 days... and we were right.

I texted my best friend Lesley to tell her I was finally going and she got back to me immediately with ideas from a friend.  She may run a successful website on the Pacific NW but she has contacts everywhere.  Her friend gave us ideas for all kinds of food & drink and many activities.  We were only going to be there for 2 days and I wanted to make the most of our time.  A local is always a great resource - ones you know, or ones you befriend along the way! 

Deep Creek Lake is not the kind of lake community I grew up visiting in northern New Jersey.  What we saw as soon as we got there looked more akin many fancy shore communities with houses on the water trying desperately to be bigger and grander than the next.  There was development all over the lake.  In fact the only public access to the water is through the state park - Deep Creek Lake State Park.  We drove past homes with secondary homes (the mother-in-law house) and found out way through winding roads to get to the lake.  Outside on the water, my stubborn streak prevailed as we walked on the beach and jetties, dipped toes in the cold waters and braved the winds on this day in the mid 50's!  Summer was obviously lost (Persephone must have went back to Hades early)... but the sun was out.  We stayed for a few hours to enjoy the reflections and pretend we went to the beach over labor day.  After we had enough, we headed indoors to the Nature Center to learn about the lake's ecology (I learned a new term for the lake's water cycle - the thermocline is the barrier between the upper and lower water layers that facilitates turnover)!

After giving up we headed to a late lunch/early dinner at Mountain State Brewery... on my list of places to check out from my friend's friend, we were optimistic.  Driving away from the lake and into the rolling fills of farms, we found the small, and incredibly busy, brewery wafting smells of food into the parking area.  This rustic local favorite was practically full at 4pm - a great sign.  Our waitress helped up pick out an unique pizza of Thai chicken and John got himself a flight of their specialties.  We chowed down on a gigantic medium pizza and decided dinner was not needed (damn was that a big pie).  Everything was yummy (and warm) in this joint and we defrosted enough to venture out again.

Where did we go now... well to the ski resort, of course.  The Wisp was bustling with people, and we know something was going on!  That something was FUN.  They had an adventure course set up for kids and other for adults.  There was a toboggan ride down the slopes and you could ride the ski lift up to come down the mountain yourself (leg-power).  We settled on tickets for the toboggan cuz, hello, it was a roller coaster you could control yourself.  Yep!  You were put in a toboggan, and pulled up the mountain... and then when you were released on the tracks, you had the ability to control your own speed!  WOOHOO.  I hooted and hollered like a kid and let my yellow ride fly... well I did until I saw signs asking us to break around some turns.  When we both disembarked, we were ready to go again! 

After we left the Wisp, we checked into our hotel (there was a reason we got a room so late in the game - ick) and headed out for a rematch on the miniature golf course.  What happens when 2 competitive people play a silly game of mini-golf.... well, putts are taken seriously and I get to say I WIN!  HA!  A hole in one baby!  The course was a blast with truly unique water features you had to play through and some serious usage of hills.  Afterwards, we headed to the arcade for a wall sized version of Space Invaders (with different rules from my Atari version).  We bounced from air hockey to ski-ball to silly guessing games and gifted random kids in the arcade our tickets won... we did not need an eraser, and we made some people smile.  Who says you have to grow up?  (I am still a Toys R Us kid at heart).

After this mad-Karate Kid styled date, we headed to the Deep Creek Creamery - the hottest ticket in town.  Because even though the temperatures never got above 55 degrees, the line for ice cream was literally down the street.  We stood in line, talked to locals and got some creamy goodness that we ate while overlooking a full moon over the lake.  It was a beautiful scene. 

The next morning, Demeter (ye, I do love throwing in the Greek Gods) decided that we could have some warmer weather... and we were able to get on the water... finally.  We booked a lake tour on a pontoon.  And I was stuck singing that Little Big  Town song all day because of it.  With an afternoon tour planned, we headed out for a downhome local breakfast.... and according to our list, Sandy's was where we wanted to be.  So we drove past the sprawling lake looking for the local dive... eventually we found the rehabbed gas station, that was home to this local fav.  We ate at the counter and marveled with the crowds. Everyone ordered a cinnamon bun, so who were we to say no- splitting it was almost not fair - warm and gooey.  For our meals, we discovered the blueberry pancakes were the way to go.  Full, we headed back to the lake. 

After lollygagging for almost 2 hours (we were early and there is not much to do in the area) we finally made our way onto the Pontoon.  And on the water for almost an hour and a half was the highlight of the trip.  The day was warm, the sun was out and our guide was a local whom was relocating the next day... he waxed nostalgic as he toured the lake.  We explored some of his favorite spots, visiting secluded arms of this amoebous lake and insanely elaborate mansions. The tour gave us a better appreciation of the grandeur of the lake.  It is large!  In fact , the lake covers 3900 acres - making it the largest lake in Maryland .  It is called Deep Creek Lake, not for being the deepest in Maryland ( it's deepest point is only 75 feet near the dam), but for the name of one of its feeding sources.  The lake gets its water from a series of creeks in the area - no major river, no underground water source.  Deep Creek can get cold - ice goes 18 inches down in the right conditions.  The lake was created in 1925 by the Youghiogheny Electric Company, bought by Pennsylvania Electric in 1942 and is now owned by Maryland!

After our tour, our guide gave us a great recommendation for a deli - we grabbed sandwiches and headed out to Swallow Falls State Park.   Another of my friend friend's great recommendations.  Swallow Falls is said to be one of the prettiest state parks in Maryland. Just about every person we spoke to told us not to miss it, so we knew we were in for a treat.  Once in the park, we sat in the giant gazebo to eat our delicious sandwiches and fuel up... camera at the ready, I was hopping for adventure.  The trail loop to 4 falls was under 2 miles.  You could add to the mileage by taking arms off the main line to get closer or different perspectives.  My camera was busy photographing the  water falling over bridal veils, cascades, and horsetail falls.  I pointed out basic geology to John - each time we go out he gets science lessons - this time in erosion and stratification.  (I need to whip out the old college texts soon and brush up on some lessons myself).  The forest around the falls is hemlock... I am familiar with Hemlock forests, as I grew up near large ones in NJ... The forest was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and it provided a great way to point out forest regeneration. Hemlock forests are unique in that they create their own mini-climates... they can lower the standing temperatures up to 10 degrees - so often you see flora in the area unlike any other.  Hemlocks and their shallow roots also help to keep the air moist... the area is ripe for fungus, mushrooms, lichens and mosses.  And all over we spotted some amazing shrooms.  They had plenty to do, breaking down trees felled by the storm.   Plenty of locals on the trail told us that the falls were low, but it didn't matter - the hike and the forest were wonderful.  Nature can take your breathe away if your let her!
After the hike and science lessons it was time to head back to DC.  On the way home, we took the scenic route through West Virginia (we were so close), and were treated to a sherbet colored sunset over the valleys between the Appalachian Mountains and views of wind farms stirring in the steady winds persistent through the area. 

With a trip full of beauty and fun, we will be sure to keep this place on our list for local get-aways when I need to see something more than traffic jams.