Southern Highlights: Foster Falls Small Wild Area

At last the steady, warm temperatures of spring have arrived!  I don’t know about you, but when the weather is nice, it is so difficult to keep me indoors.

Recently we were able to take a trip home to Dad and Mom’s house in Tennessee.  My parents live in an amazingly beautiful area in the Cumberland Mountain region and we love to take advantage of gorgeous days; looking for fun and adventure whenever we are in town.  This last trip found us venturing off to Foster Falls Small Wild Area for a little hiking.  Foster Falls is in Marion County, about a 40 minutes drive west of Chattanooga.  It is a part of the South Cumberland State Park area which also includes Grundy Lakes and the old coke ovens we visited last spring. 

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Foster Falls is not a new area to us at all as we have camped (mostly primitive camping) there several times over the years and my kids frequent the area when they are with their grands.  While the camping is nice, Foster Falls is well-known for its hiking, especially its climbing, and of course a gorgeous 60 ft water fall.

View from the overlook

View from the overlook

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Rushing water leading to the falls

Rushing water leading to the falls

Hiking around the falls is available for all levels, from the casual to the endurance hiker.  We enjoy the trail down to the base of the falls, which is not difficult, but can be rocky as well as slippery if there has been a lot of rain.  It’s about a 15-20 minute hike down to the falls.

We were casual hikers, just out to enjoy the spring weather on the day that we visited Foster Falls

We were casual hikers, just out to enjoy the spring weather on the day that we visited Foster Falls

Foster Falls Bridge

Bridge leading to the base of the falls after the 15 minute hike down

Glimpse of the falls through the trees

Glimpse of the falls through the trees

At the base there are other trails as well as a deep pool that is so cold even in the summer!

Normally the pool is emerald green, but the southern spring rains had the pool looking a little murkey.

Normally the pool is emerald-green, but the southern spring rains had the pool looking a little murky.

Longer hikes include trails that eventually lead you to the portion of South Cumberland State Park known as the Fiery Gizzard trail (12.5 miles one way) and is a very popular trail to hike!

View across the South Cumberland Mountain area  from the top of Foster Falls

View across the South Cumberland Mountain area from the top of Foster Falls

The trail leading to the Fiery Gizzard goes along the side of this creek

The trail leading to the Fiery Gizzard goes along the side of this creek

Climbing is the same way.  My kids did a little free-climbing while we were there, but we have brought gear before for attempting some serious climbing!  The area is actually known to be a prime destination for serious climbers in the Southeast!

Free Climbing at Foster Falls

Free Climbing at Foster Falls2

Pack a picnic, bring plenty of water, and plan to spend the day if you come out.  There is much for you to enjoy!  Foster Falls is dog friendly and you will encounter many along the trails.  Leashes are a must, and remember to bring baggies to clean up after your pet.

Our sweet little Corgi enjoyed her outdoor adventure ... except for the mud.

Our sweet little Corgi enjoyed her outdoor adventure … except for the mud.

If you don’t camp, lodging is available in both Kimball, Tennessee down in the valley, and in Monteagle , Tennessee on the top of the mountain near the main entrance to South Cumberland State Park. Plan for several days to soak up nature and history all around the roughly 25,000 acres that comprise this state park system.

Foster Falls is so peaceful and gorgeous

Foster Falls is so peaceful and gorgeous

Inquiring minds want to know:  What do you like to do when the season begins to change and warm up?

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Our Top Things To Do in the Florida Keys

Our family kicked off the new year in a way we never have before; leaving all of our traditions behind from black-eyed peas to college football and made so many memories together traveling to the Florida Keys!

It’s actually the busy season in the Keys as many people are wanting to leave behind the cold, wet days of winter and find a little sunshine and fun!  That is exactly what we did and I do believe we have discovered a new tradition for our New Year; every year!

After the lovely few days away I thought it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip with a list of Our Top Things to do in the Florida Keys.  These are completely teenager friendly as we are not partiers at all, but out more to enjoy sights and culture when we travel.

Top Things to do While Visiting the Florida Keys

1. You can’t drive to Key West without travel the highway that runs parallel with the Historic Seven-Mile Bridge.  Seven-Mile Bridge, when it was finished in 1912, was the longest bridge of its kind.  It connected the middle Keys to the lower Keys as a railroad line until the 1930s when it was refurbished for auto traffic.  Now it is closed, but portions are open for pedestrians and bicyclists.  If you like history it’s a neat little stop as you travel through.

7 mile bridge

Not all of the bridge is accessible at this time, but there is a massive project getting ready to begin to restore the entire length of the bridge.  I find that very exciting!

seven mile bridge

I apologize for the blurry pics…. we were driving while I was trying to shoot.

The broken railings?  They were made from the railway trackage when the bridge was converted from a railroad bridge to an auto bridge in the 1930s.

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2.  The Ernest Hemingway Home.  If you ever took a high school or college lit class, you read Ernest Hemingway at some point.  Visiting his main residence in the 1930s was a really awesome way to visualize his life.  From the studio where he wrote his best-selling novels to stories that brought the man to life, the Hemingway Home was a fabulous treat.

Ernest Hemingway Home

Built in 1851, Ernest Hemingway acquired this well-built island home in 1931 while he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, A French Vogue editor, for $8000.

Hemingway Dining RoomHemingway Portrait

Hemingway Chandelier

Pauline hated this chandelier and had it removed & stored in the attic while living in the house.  I can’t even imagine…

The tour guide we had was absolutly fantastic and truly brought the colorful life of Hemingway to us in an entirely new way!

Hemingway Porch

James Bond turned in his “License to Kill” at the Hemingway house in the 1988 movie of the same name.

Hemingway Office

The room above the garage where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works including “To Have & To Have Not”.

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This fountain and “flower bed” was built by the original builder/owner, Asa Tift, to resemble an old confederate ironclad boat.

3. Key Lime Pie from Blue Heaven restaurant.  If Blue Heaven is packed (or closed getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash), just head across the street to Andy’s Cabana which is owned by the same family.

Andys Cabana

And they have THE Key Lime Pie.

Blue Heaven Key Lime Pie

4. Take a sunset cruise from the Port of Key West.  We chose the Jolly II Rover and are so glad that we did!  With a fun crew and beautiful views, it was the perfect evening to a fabulously fun day!

Jolly II Rover

raising the sails

Madeline helping raise the sails!  Such a neat experience!

You’ll discover on this cruise that you are closer to Cuba than you are the nearest Walmart.  I thought that was just a really cool fact.

cruisinsunset sail

On the Jolly II Rover you may also have the adventure of firing a cannon at other passing ships!

Ahoy mates

And the sunset?

Breathtaking, amazing, and unforgettable.

Florida Keys Sunset

5. Visit the Southernmost point.  If you want to get technical it is really not the southernmost point, but unless you wan to be arrested for trespassing on a military installation this will have to suffice.

southernmost point

Lines form early to have your picture made here, so plan to arrive super early, or do like we did and go after sunset; no waiting necessary.

6. Take in the island real estate.  I love the houses and historic buildings found in both Key West and Key Largo.

key west real estate 2Key West real estate

Enjoy the sightseeing and don’t catch island fever…. It can be costly!

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7.  “Sail away to Key Largo” with a ride the African Queen.

The African Queen is not a replica; this is the real deal built in 1912 and used in the 1951 movie The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn.

The African Queen

With the history behind the boat, as well as the legend, this evening cruise was a true highlight of our stay.

African Queen Steam Engine

Enjoy your own Boggey & Bacall … Or is it Bogart and Hepburn moment?

Take your pick, but a cruise on the African Queen is a step back in time allowing you to have your own romantic moment.

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African Queen Sunset

8. Hit the water in Key Largo at John Pennecamp State Park in a canoe.  Canoeing is a lot of fun and the perfect activity for everyone in the family.  The park also offers camping, snorkeling, swimming, and various other water-sports.

Kayaking

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9. Don’t forget to hit the beach.  Seriously.  The whole purpose of a vacation is to get away from your environment and relax.  Take time for this.

On the beach

If not for you, do it for your family.

on the beach 2

 I loved the naturally preserved beaches at John Pennecamp State park, but I also loved the man-made sandy beaches of the resorts.

And as you can see, my teenagers had a blast!

buried in sand

In no way is this a list of all the things to do in the Florida Keys.  With this being our first trip and only having a few days to kick back, these highlights were what we enjoyed most!  When we return this year after Christmas we will have a whole new list of activities planned.

Just a few tips to getting around Key West.  First, if you are wanting to hit up historic Key West, find you a good parking space (legally) on the street and leave your car for the day.  You might want to brush up on your parallel parking skills before you go.  Walking about town is honestly the most logical way to go.  Key West is extremely pedestrian friendly. Make reservations if you have a specific, but popular hot spot you want to visit.  Lines for dinner can be quite long, especially when mile high Key Lime pie is involved.  Also, book your cruises early.  We purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance and the tickets were texted to me on my phone.  Quite convenient indeed, and we didn’t have to  risk being turned away at the dock.  Key Largo does involve more driving as the area is not so compact.  The drive all the way to Key West can be a long one. The speed limit is 45-55 and there is a lot of traffic.  Drive safely and go with the flow.

It’ll make the trip much more enjoyable!

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Southern Highlights: Grundy Lakes & Coke Ovens

Last week was spring break, so we found it to be the perfect time for a trip “home” to see family.  We were so blessed to spend the Easter holiday at my parents in Tennessee feasting and playing, while catching up with my siblings, nieces and nephews and of course our own married daughter.  It was a perfectly lovely time indeed!

I desperately tried to take a picture of all four of our kids, but it was an epic fail…..

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But, I’m OK with that because it truly shows how blessed that I am.

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And how my kids love each other & can still have fun together.

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My girls did cooperate for one quick photo …. just before the boiled egg battle commenced.

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There comes an age when hunting eggs is no longer the “in” thing to do!

Easter Sunday was memorable indeed and marked only the beginning of a near perfect week.

It’s sad, you can spend your teen & young adult years (as well as a few years between moves) in an area and never really know that area.  I can only blame myself for this as I spent more time rebelling against this small town than embracing this beautiful area in Tennessee.  I’m a city girl through and through, but I do love to go home now, and discover the hidden treasures of middle Tennessee that I avoided as a snotty teen.

Momma planned a day for the kids (well the two that didn’t have to work) and I to enjoy a little state park near their place.

GrundyLakes

Located in Tracey City, Tennessee on the top of Sequatchie/Monteagle Mountain (part of the Cumberland Mountain range) is a sweet little state park that is a part of the South Cumberland Mountain park system.  Grundy Lakes is a unique little park perfect for an afternoon picnic, a little fishing, hiking, biking, swimming and strolling around soaking up a little history.

Bradley ready for his brike ride around the lakes at Grundy

Bradley ready for his bike ride around the lakes at Grundy

Over 100 years ago, the area that is now Grundy Lakes State Park was home to the Lone Rock Coke Ovens.  These 120 “beehive” ovens were built into the ground around 1883 which worked well for the community as Tracey City was a coal mining area.   It was also an area in ruin where coal had been burned into “Coke” a fuel that didn’t contain a lot of impurities and burned so hot it melted iron; one reason it was manufactured.

A few of the grown-over coke ovens

A few of the grown-over coke ovens

While coke ovens were a boost to the economy they eventually destroyed the communities and environment that made up the surrounding area.

In the 1930’s, during the height of the Great Depression in an effort to bring  jobs to what was a devastated coal mining community, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) took control of the land, built the lakes, planted trees and shrubbery and turned the area into a recreation area that is still lovely today.

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Side of one of the ovens.... I loved the small water fall.  Most serene.

Side of one of the ovens…. I loved the small water fall. Most serene.

I appreciate when the restoration of the land was being completed, the history of the area was preserved as well.  Some of the coke ovens have been cleaned out and maintained for visitors to see the structures, while others are lined up in the woods for you to enjoy as you stroll about.

Madeline and Momma taking a break on their bike ride around the lakes ... yes, Madeline is turning cartwheels!

Madeline and Momma taking a break on their bike ride around the lakes … yes, Madeline is turning cartwheels!

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Madeline standing beside one of the original coke ovens…. there were originally 120 of these built in this area.

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A little more history of the present-day Grundy Lakes

A little more history of the present-day Grundy Lakes

As I mentioned, Grundy Lakes is a part of the South Cumberland Recreation area.  Within 20 miles of this little park is the Foster Falls recreation area (fabulous rock climbing and primitive camping), the beginning of the Fiery Gizzard Trail (hiking for the experienced hiker), & Savage Gulf State Natural area that hosts a bevy of outdoor recreation that can appeal to everyone in the family.  The exclusive University of the South is also on the mountain.  If you love architecture you have to stop for pictures and tour!

I love this area on the mountain as it is so peaceful and totally off the beaten path.  If you want adventure, history, and an opportunity to get away from it all, this is the perfect area for you!  Located of interstate 24 between Nashville and Chattanooga Taking the Monteagle/Tracey City exit at the top of Monteagle Mountain.

Coming into the Grundy Lakes park area

Entering into the Grundy Lakes park area

Happy Trails!

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Two Days Away: Nashville Zoo

Our summer is rather hectic trying to balance family, work and pleasure time.  This is the first summer I have ever worked since having children and to say that they are unhappy is an understatement.

Audley and I have put a lot of thought into things we can do to enjoy family time together as well as visit our families who are six hours away.  Recently we ran away for the weekend to Nashville where we enjoyed quite a lovely day at the Nashville Zoo with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.

We have always loved visiting the zoo and even though our kids are teenagers, the fun that comes with a zoo trip is still a joy to us all!

Before visiting the Nashville Zoo, it’s important to note that this is not the Chicago, Atlanta or St. Louis Zoo.  The Nashville Zoo is smaller and set up as a beautiful park perfect for picnicking and strolling through.  The zoo features an adorable wild animal carousel as well as a super fun playground area known as the “Jungle Gym”, just perfect for my little nieces who joined us.

Welcome to the Nashville Zoo

Welcome to the Nashville Zoo

The day we chose to visit was absolutely beautiful and quite warm for a June day.  But, this is the south so I honestly wouldn’t have expected it to be any other way!

I hope you’ll enjoy this little walk through the zoo with my family!

Ticket gate for the Zoo

Ticket gate for the Zoo

An exhibit of tropical birds greeted us first .... absolutely beautiful without a doubt!

An exhibit of tropical birds greeted us first …. absolutely beautiful without a doubt!

My girls and nieces ... aren't they all so beautiful?

My girls and nieces … aren’t they all so beautiful?

 

And the boys .... they stayed as far away from the girls as possible, including for pictures.

And the boys …. they stayed as far away from the girls as possible, including for pictures.

With the day being so hot and humid (a typical Southern, summer day), many of the animals want to nap, but were able to enjoy almost all of the animals anyway.  Several were quite photogenic and posed, just for us.

I'm a meerkat lover and this one just kept posing for me.  Isn't he a doll?

I’m a meerkat lover and this one just kept posing for me. Isn’t he a doll?

The kids loved the kangaroos & hanging out in their habitat; these guys were so awesome and would walk right up to you.

The kids loved the kangaroos & hanging out in their habitat; these guys were so awesome and would walk right up to you.

I'm a bird lover and the lorakeet habitat was one of my favorites.  They would land on you if you had nector for them to enjoy.

I’m a bird lover and the lorikeet habitat was one of my favorites. They would land on you if you had nectar for them to enjoy.

Several species of the cat family live at the Nashville Zoo

Several species of the cat family live at the Nashville Zoo

A much prettier version of the "pink flamingo" than I normally see in the south.  hehe

A much prettier version of the “pink flamingo” than I normally see in the south. hehe

The entrance to the Savanna exhibit where the elephants and giraffes live

The entrance to the Savanna exhibit where the elephants and giraffes live

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We never quite figured out WHAT kind of animals these were!!
We never quite figured out WHAT kind of animals these were!!

After enjoying the animals, the smaller kids had a little fun riding the carousel and playing on the Jungle Gym playground.  So much for everyone to enjoy and most relaxing indeed!

I love carousels ... they take me back in time.

I love carousels … they take me back in time.

Entrance to the Jungle Gym

Entrance to the Jungle Gym

I loved all of the landscaping around the zoo, from the planters to the garden areas.

I loved all of the landscaping around the zoo, from the planters to the garden areas.

My brother’s company in Nashville has done a lot of work at the zoo (including a current project that should be finished in the fall).  I think they have done a wonderful job helping create such a family space, just perfect for a fun day out.

My girls with my little niece, Kynlee in one of the small decorative garden areas.

My girls with my little niece, Kynlee in one of the small decorative garden areas.

As I said, this isn’t your major metropolitan area zoo, but still a wonderful way to spend the day with the family.  There is plenty of space for picnicking and playing as well as relaxing trails to explore and even interact with so much of God’s creation.  I definitely recommend the Nashville Zoo for an activity and part of a quick get-away.

Have a wonderful week!

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