At Altitude

Over the past month we’ve taken a number of glorious excursions into the mountains.  On my (and Van’s) first trip to the top of a fourteener, we opted to use the assistance of four wheels.  While we would love to climb one with our own legs, that will have to wait until our toddler gets a bit older.  Instead, we opted to drive up the highest paved road in North America.  When we reached the forest service entrance, the ranger on duty informed us that the road to the summit was closed, but that we could get as far as Summit Lake, about five miles before the summit.  We began the drive with crossed fingers, hoping that the snow would clear up and we’d be able to make it to the top.  We drove as far as we could and got out for a romp through the snow.  Van did amazingly well hiking over snow, slush, and ice at a very high altitude, but we knew better than to keep him out for too long.

Most of the way up Mt. Evans, hoping the road to the summit will open for us

Most of the way up Mt. Evans, hoping the road to the summit will open for us

Once he started to show signs of exhaustion, we headed back to our car and watched as another car began ascending the road to the summit.  The road had opened!!!

Mt. Evans Road - the highest paved road in North America

Mt. Evans Road – the highest paved road in North America

View from the summit

View from the summit

The temperature was reading in the twenties without the wind, and the wind was practically blowing us over.   Needless to say, we didn’t subject Van to the cold wind (we don’t want him to hate us too much), but we both took turns exploring the summit.  While most of our drive was into the clouds, some of the clouds began to clear as we were at the summit.  Instead of viewing the Rockies from afar, here we were, in the mountains!

On our way back down from the summit, we stopped at Echo Lake for a picnic lunch amidst the pines and a short walk around the lake.  While this isn’t as exciting as hiking to an alpine lake, it was a perfect spot to stop and enjoy the fresh (albeit thin) air and the local wildlife.  Apparently, we brought some wildlife of our own along for the day.

Echo Lake

Echo Lake

Our lunch companion at Echo Lake

Our lunch companion at Echo Lake

Yes, he's a lion...

Yes, he’s a lion…

and a cutie pie...

and a cutie pie…

with an extra helping of sass.

with an extra helping of sass.

A few days after our trip to Mt. Evans, we set out to explore the town of Evergreen.  We spent much of the day hiking at several of the many county parks in the area.  This would be an amazing place to live if you’re into hiking or mountain biking.  We were incredibly impressed by the number and quality of parks in the area.  You’d never be bored!

One of the charms of not having GPS or regular data access on our phone is that we have to use maps and intuition to find our way.  When the maps are incorrect or woefully inadequate, we wind up in some new and exciting places.  The photo below is taken along one of the roads we incorrectly but oh-so-happily drove down in our quest to find yet another park in Evergreen.  Now if only that could be our view from our (currently non-existent) front porch.

Views in Evergreen

Views in Evergreen

Kentucky, where have you been my whole life?

About a month ago, and before we had van troubles, we had an amazing week in Kentucky.  We didn’t have too many preconceived notions about the state, but we were blown away again and again.  The beauty, the kindness, the sheer number of interesting things to do and see, the work ethic, we could go on and on.  It’s become a bit of a joke between us.  Every time we go somewhere and find that someone is not that friendly or that service is not that good, we look at each other and say that we’re not in Kentucky anymore.  A week was barely enough to scrape the surface.  We’re both looking forward to going back in the future and spending much more time so that we can further explore some of the areas we visited and check out the many areas we weren’t able to see.

We spent our first full day in Kentucky in coal country.  Based on the recommendation of some friends in the know, we checked out a couple of coal camps (Benham and Lynch to be specific).  We also spent a good portion of the day driving some narrow, twisty, mountain roads to see amazing scenery, small towns, and evidence of coal mining operations.  Appalachia fascinates me.  Coal mining fascinates me.  This was easily one of my favorite days of the trip.  I also asked said friends in the know to direct us to evidence of mountaintop removal mining.  I had no idea what I was in for.  I expected to see this type of mining and be moved.  I did not realize how improperly named (or rather, nicknamed) this type of mining is.  It should really just be called mountain removal mining.  Mountaintop removal assumes that much of the mountain remains.  While this may happen in some cases, this certainly doesn’t happen in all cases.  I was blown away.  Thanks, Sarah and Tom for the great recommendations!

The Depot in Lynch, Kentucky

The Depot in Lynch, Kentucky

Portal 31 in Lynch, Kentucky

Portal 31 in Lynch, Kentucky

Coal

Coal

View into Virginia from Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky

View into Virginia from Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky

Closer view into Virginia from Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky

Closer view into Virginia from Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky

In our short time in the area, we began to gain a better appreciation of the social impacts and importance of coal mining to this region and the devastating environmental effects.  It made me think more about our role (because we all have a role) in this environmental destruction.  It also reinforced why local citizens are often such fierce proponents of coal – it is life here.  I came away from this day wanting to dive even deeper into the social and environmental history of coal mining in this region.  This is going on the top of my list of things to research and read about after our trip.

We spent the night at the nicest Red Roof Inn, probably in the history of man.  It was worth at least two or three times the $46 we paid for the night.  While we typically camp each night, we’ve been spending every fifth or sixth night in a motel.  Most have been around this same price point and nowhere (not even close) as nice as this motel.  And everyone we met who worked there were the most genuinely friendly and competent hotel clerks ever.  And thus continues our love affair with Kentucky.

When we awoke, the rain was coming down hard.  We decided to drive up to Lexington and spend the day at the Explorium, the local children’s museum.   Even through the gray and rain, we fell in love again.  And Van had a blast at the museum.  Though the horse exhibits were the most fun for us, he loved the “lala boat” (water boat).

My first horse ride

My first horse ride

Nothing is better than playing in water

Nothing is better than playing in water

Trapped in a bubble!

Trapped in a bubble!

I particularly enjoyed the exhibit about homes around the world.  I would have loved playing in the various homes when I was a child.  But then, a seemingly out-of-place panel caught my eye.  It was a panel dedicated to explaining that not everyone has a home.  The portion below made me smile to myself.  It was the part of this exhibit that explained our housing situation, except not at all.  While we may be living in a vehicle, we are not homeless and would never consider ourselves as such.  But, living in a car with fewer necessities does help me to empathize a bit more than I did before our trip with our homeless brothers and sisters who have no choice but to live in a vehicle.

Exhibit in the Explorium of Lexington

Exhibit in the Explorium of Lexington

Continuing our theme of being impressed with all that exists in Kentucky, we made our way to a beautiful and incredibly well maintained campground in Taylorsville Lake State Park.  Well situated between Lexington and Louisville, this became our home base for the next six nights.

Our campsite in Taylorsville Lake State Park

Our campsite in Taylorsville Lake State Park