The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Scenery

Finding Fairy Houses

When daughter Andowen was little, she loved to read books about fairies. She loved the photographs in the wonderful series by Tracy & Barry Kane. When she was six years old, she found her first fairy houses in the woods—on a family vacation to Blackriver Falls in WV.

Tracy and Barry Kane

On that trip, Andowen spent hours wandering the trails, posing her fairy figures in front of (and inside) openings in the roots and branches of trees. Eventually, she decided this area was a special conference center where fairies come to rest and have fun together.

Fairies Rest and Have Fun in the Woods

Eventually, all of us started looking for fairy houses as we traveled the world! Big sister Nettie delighted Andowen by building a special stump house in a campground near Seward Alaska. She even included handcrafted woodland furniture. Andowen spun many tales about the fairy family who moved into such luxury accommodations!

Custom Built by big sister Nettie

As we backpacked along the Appalachian Trail in the past few years, there are a few locations that looked like possible fairy houses but we weren’t certain if they were still occupied. One afternoon in Northern Virginia, Andowen found a Fairy Marina where tree roots met a burbling stream. There were many protected slips for a variety of sizes of boats. She watched for quite a while, but the fairies stayed hidden…

AT discoveries, VA

The breakthrough occurred when we spent a few months in Germany. Apparently the fairies have been there so long that they have developed a good relationship with humans. Andowen was quite excited to discover the Royal Fairy Academy in the old Linden tree in the town of Frauenstein. One of the fairies told her that this tree became a training school for Fairy leaders in the 800s. It has been in continuous use since then. The guide explained that there are only a few training academies around the world. There needs to be plenty of entrances and room inside for hundreds of fairies to live, learn, and play. Plus each location has to have special features that set it apart. In this case, many of the suites at this Royal Academy have mossy balconies for fairies to enjoy the lovely setting!

1000 year old Linden, Frauenstein Germany

When we returned to the USA, Andowen kept an eye out, on a search to discover the secret location of the American Fairy Academy. Unfortunately, too many people here no longer believe in fairies, so the school is kept hidden from prying eyes. Finally, Andowen found the academy, camouflaged by hundreds of fake entrances in the walls of Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills right here in Ohio. One fairy guard realized Andowen was a friend and came out to talk to her. Americans tend to be active and exercise conscious—and our fairies are no different. They chose this location because it has a huge floor for sunrise yoga sessions and midnight dances when the moon is full, all serenaded by the falling water.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Most recently, Andowen was excited to discover the Royal Canadian Fairy Academy. Although the location is one of the most crowded trails in Banff National Park, this school is found in the walls of Johnston Canyon. Apparently this place was chosen because of the wild white water rafting on moonlit evenings. Plus there are few tourists to interrupt treks to the frozen falls when the entire park turns into a winter wonderland. (see link below for photos)

Fairy Houses in Canada, Banff National Park

Fairies just wanna have fun

We continue to look for new-to-us fairy houses and training academies. If you find any, please post photos and share the locations! Let’s continue to celebrate our fairy-friends!

Read about other ways we have fun in the woods HERE. In case you missed the first installment in our series about the Lego Tiny-Mes who go on adventures with us, you can read about them HERE.

Find Andowen’s favorite Fairy House book HERE

For more information about locations of what we have found so far, check the following links:

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis WV

Frauenstein, Wiesbaden Germany

Johnston Canyon in the Winter, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

My 7 Favorite Adventures

What’s your favorite dinosaur? Class in school? Comfort food recipe? Where and when were your favorite adventures? Who’s the best band? Professor? Relative? We grow up being asked to pick favorites in most areas of life. Most often our lists change over time. But there are usually a few items that stay near the top, cherished for a lifetime.

With my love of wandering and my quest for “Big Epics” (read more about Big Epics HERE), it seems appropriate that I share the locations of my 7 favorite adventures with you. These are places I return to over and over—in person or in my dreams. (This list of places I have visited at least twice came together quickly, but it is presented in chronological order of when I first traveled to each location. There would have been days of dithering and second guessing if I had to actually rank my choices!)

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – I love the coolness and the quiet of being deep underground. (I know, I know…many folks HATE being in a cave. Humor me!) As one of the longest cave systems in the world, there are a wide variety of tours at Mammoth Cave. I’ve been on most of them over the years. My favorite was going on the “Wild Cave Tour” when I was 16. “Exploring” the cave by headlamp and crawling through holes and narrow canyons was my first taste of big adventure. Even better was taking my young adult kids to the park for them to go on the same tour decades later. On my bucket list with this site is returning to go on the newly re-opened boat tour at the lower levels of the cave! (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )

Big Epic Adventure, Favorite Adventures, KYHistoric Entrance, Kentucky

Killington Ski Resort VT – I was in middle school when we first went to Killington for Spring Break. It was a drivable distance from Ohio to this large ski area, which allowed my family to vacation here year after year. Trips became sporadic as my sisters and I grew up, went to college, and started our own families. Occasionally, we 3 generations gathered to enjoy the same runs. This place tops the list of favorite adventures for most of our family members. There is a possibility that we might manage to return in 2020 for a week of skiing with FOUR generations! You will certainly read about it if we pull that off. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )  

Snow Skiing, Spring Skiing, Killington VTKillington Ski Resort, VT

Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico – I first spent a summer in the Yucatan when I was in high school. There is amazing scope for imagination here—remnants of a great civilization, daydreams of actually experiencing that culture, and adventure stories of archeologists rediscovering the ruins and eventually deciphering the language carved in stone. We returned as a family in 2002, when our youngest daughter was just a baby. Someday I would love to explore the Mayan ruins found in Guatamala and Belize. (More info about the famous ruins at Chicheen Itza HERE. The less crowded sites are even more magical to visit…)

Mayan Ruins, Yucatan Penninsula

Hadrian’s Wall across N Yorkshire, England – I admit it, I’m a history geek. Which made this site a stunning adventure. Imagine—a wall built millennia ago by the Romans is not just still standing…but you can actually WALK on it! The wall was not particularly effective at keeping the barbarian outsiders of northern England out of the civilized settlements. But it remains an amazing monument to a long-gone civilization’s determination and organization. I have visited small areas of Hadrian’s Wall twice—with a different daughter each time. I dream of walking the length of the wall with youngest daughter someday. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Roman Ruins, N Yorkshire, History Geek

Banff National Parque, Alberta, Canada – I love mountains of any size and shape. But my very favorite mountains (so far) are the Canadian Rockies. Steep mountains with snow caps surrounding brilliant turquoise blue glacial lakes—stunning! We spent time here during our nine months of wandering in an RV. And we returned on our road trip a few months ago when we visited a dear friend who now lives in this beautiful location. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE. The first photo is at iconic Lake Louise. The recent photo is at Lake Minnewanka.) 

Banff National Parque, Canadian RockiesBanff National Parque, Canadian Rockies

Chaco Culture National Historic Site, NM – Scattered across the high desert of New Mexico are ruins of another great civilization. Chaco Canyon receives few visitors because it is in the middle of nowhere and is only accessible by 20 miles of dirt roads. Because of the low volume of guests, people are allowed to wander unaccompanied through the ruins. This is another location with great scope for imagination as we walk through doorways and peek through windows to see the same scenery enjoyed by the Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) 600 years ago. Because we lived nearby for three years, we had the privilege of seeing this site in different seasons, changing light, and varied weather. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Chaco Canyon, Anasazi RuinsChaco Canyon, Anasazi Ruins

The Appalachian Trail (GA to ME) – As I have described elsewhere on this blog, since I was a teen I have dreamed of taking extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. To me, this is the very definition of a “Big Epic.” Youngest Daughter and I have completed over 500 miles of the 2200 mile-long path through the woods and up and down the mountains of the Eastern USA. We plan another trip for later this fall. I don’t know if we will ever complete the entire trail—but we are having fun along the way! (More info about this Favorite Adventure—at the official site HERE and our reasons for heading to the woods HERE.)

first big epic, section hiking, ATWhite blazes, AT, foggy day

(Why did I choose to list SEVEN Favorite Adventure Locations? Because that’s my favorite number! I talk more about that on my Go-Fund-Me page. Please take a moment to read HERE about how you can help me reach my goal of becoming a Certified Forest Therapy Guide to help other folks fall in love with being outdoors and connecting with Nature. Read about my love of the number 7 on the Rewards for Donors page HERE.)

BONUS: WHALE WATCHING (There are many places to do this. We enjoyed Kenai Fjords National Park, AK – Walking to (and tasting!) ancient glaciers. Taking a boat tour along the mountainous coast and seeing amazing wildlife, including WHALES. Exploring the history of the region. What’s not to love about visiting this park? Someday I dream of returning to Alaska to revisit my Favorite Adventures in that wild land. And I would be happy to go on Whale Watch Tours in other locations as well. (More info about this National Park HERE )

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, Favorite AdventuresExit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

I would LOVE to hear about YOUR Favorite Adventures. Please leave me a comment below…

Find the History…

So you can’t get time off work for the next few months. Or you’ve already used up all your vacation days for the year. What in the world can you do in your boring corner of the world? Try going on a History SCAVENGER HUNT!

Some places are obvious: the restored train depot beside the tracks, the fancy mansions hiding behind wrought iron fences. The factory ruins turned into event center at the local park.

Historic Station, Train Tracks

gothic style, wrought iron fence

Ariel Park, renovation, factory re-used

GATHER INFORMATION: Find the stories that go with the obviously old buildings in town. But also look for hidden treasure! Do a quick internet search for the history of your town. Stop by your local tourist information center to ask about maps of local landmarks or walking tours. Talk to the old-timers in your neighborhood. They often have stories to tell about long-ago businesses or events in your area. Even the gift shop or local book store might have clues—found in the books and post cards they sell.

GO FOR A WALK: The best way to discover local history is to walk. At the slower pace, you will notice cornerstones, dates on buildings, and signs describing historic events. (We found out that the county office building used to be the local hospital. Even some of the old-timers didn’t know that tidbit of information!) Talk to folks as you pass by. Workers explained the reason for the swampy low spot near one house—it used to be flooded and frozen in the winter to harvest ice blocks to be stored and used year round. Another family proudly told us about the blocked off passageway in their basement—possibly remnants of a stop to help protect runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Mercy Hospital

Historic Block Ice Field

escape tunnel, underground railroad, local history

WANDER THE SIDE STREETS: Pay close attention to what might be around the next corner! There will most certainly be hidden gardens and quirky architectural details. But you never know what other treasures you might discover. We found a colony of gnome-homes in our little town. But that’s another story for another day…

What a Wildly Wonderful World!

On our Epic Road-trip, we have enjoyed seeing the poetry of the Psalms illustrated as we travel through this Wildly Wonderful World! Here are some examples from our wanderings:

God, my God, how great you are! Beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent.

banff, canadian rockies, wonderful world

You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.

Prairie, Lone Tree, Devils Tower Tipi Camping

You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters; Then you roared and the water ran away—your thunder crash put it to flight.

Banff, Lake Minnewanka, Mountain Reflection

Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded.

Grant Kohrs Ranch NHS, Pasture, Mountains

You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills.

Glacier NP, stream

All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. Along the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard.

Glacier NP, riverbank

You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water.

Banff, Johnston Canyon, Waterfall, Rainbow

You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt NP, Bison

Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy, Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty.

Happy Friends

God’s trees are well-watered—the Lebanon cedars he planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop.

Hiking Trail, Glacier NP, tall trees

Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks.

Badlands NP, Big-horn Sheep

The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper. When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens.

Devils Tower Tipi Camping, Sunset

Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening.

Ft Union Trading Post NHS, fur trader

What a wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

Devils Tower NM, red rock canyons

Oh look, the deep, wide sea brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. Ship plow those waters, and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.

Badlands NP, sea bed, ancient ocean floor

All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it.

Devils Tower NM, prairie dog town

 

If you turned your back, they’d die in a minute—Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud; Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, flowers on prairie

The glory of God—let it last forever! Let God enjoy his creation! (Ps 104: 1-31)

Banff, Canadian Rockies, Castle Rock

You can see more poetry illustrated by photos from our wanderings through this Wildly Wonderful World by clicking HERE or HERE

 

 

Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

Art from the Trail

Both of us look for beauty in our surroundings. Even though every ounce adds up on a long-distance backpacking trip, we chose to carry a small camera, sketch paper, and a variety of pencils. Here is some of the art we brought back from our time on the trail. Enjoy!

Daughter spends hours creating imaginary characters. While on this trip, she worked hard at adding action to her drawings.

tree climber

Influenced by spending so much time in the woods, she drew both whimsical and realistic images of things she discovered along the trail. One afternoon she dissected a number of acorns and drew what she found inside the shell.bug in bed

oak and acorns

acorn dissection

Scenes like this one near the Blackburn Trail Center led to both a drawing and a poem:

gap from blackburn trail center

the gap

Up! Down! Up again!

Steeper up!

When will we be there?

11:00. 11:45. 12:00. 1:00.

Finally!! (Oh,nice view…)

I prefer to use color in my drawings, like this reminder of a rainy day:

dripping leaf

Daughter remembered the day this way:

Storm

Wet, Cold

Pouring, Sloshing, Sliding

Walking in the rain

Drizzle

My heart sings when I see beautiful colors in nature, especially when the color “pops” out from a darker background. When trying to capture those scenes on paper, I love the saturated colors I get from Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils:

bright leaves

fall leaf

butterfly on boot

butterfly

sunset

sunsetFinding beauty and making art on the trail added to our enjoyment of our grand adventure!

Ever-Changing Trail

Many folks assume the Appalachian Trail must be similar from start to finish—a dirt path meandering through the woods. That’s not wrong, but it only describes a small portion of the AT. In reality, we backpacked an ever-changing trail.

The stereotypical "walk in the woods"

The stereotypical “walk in the woods”

In the 150+ miles that we hiked, we encountered changing elevations, varied plants and trees, and different views. Sometimes it felt like we were walking through an unending green tunnel. Other times we saw glorious layers of mountains beyond a patchwork quilt of farms in the valleys. Here are some of the many trails we walked while backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland and Virginia:

Boggy ground is crossed with a series of boardwalks...

Boggy ground is crossed on a series of boardwalks…

A few streams are crossed on a bridge, some are waded through, and most are crossed by balancing on rocks.

A few streams are crossed on a bridge, some are waded through, and most are crossed by balancing on rocks.

Sometimes the trail follows the side of a road.

Sometimes the trail follows the side of a road.

Sometimes it winds through the center of town! (This is in Harpers Ferry WV...not Narnia as some might suspect...)

Sometimes it winds through the center of town! (This is in Harpers Ferry WV…not Narnia as some might suspect…)

Some trail sections have gravel; some sections require climbing over boulders; and some are just a jumbled path through loose rock.

Some trail sections have gravel; some require climbing over boulders; and other sections are just a jumbled path through loose rock.

No matter where the white blazes lead, it is always interesting to follow the ever-changing trail.

(Note: we finished this year’s hike on October 21 but will continue to share stories and photos from the trail for another few weeks.)

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