TBT: Point Pleasant, W. Va.

Point Pleasant's mothman is said to have tried to warn townspeople of a looming tragedy.

Point Pleasant’s mothman is said to have tried to warn townspeople of a looming tragedy.

Writing about our old camping adventures got me remembering more about one of those trips. The first camping trip was more than just Babcock State Park; we started in Point Pleasant, W. Va., a small town on the Ohio River.

First of all, I kind of loved this place. I consisted of little more than a Main Street, Bennigan’s and a riverwalk. The town’s claim to fame stems from tragic bridge collapse in 1967. Before the Silver Bridge fell in, some of the locals reported seeing a red-eyed “Mothman” outside town. Some believe this apparition was a warning of a coming disaster. (Side note: I’ve been waiting for Mothman sightings to start around the Brent Spence Bridge. None so far.)

The Mothman, bridge collapse and subsequent movie, “The Mothman Prophecies” are their claims to fame. We visited the Mothman Museum and stayed in the Historic Lowe Hotel, which had a nice, welcoming staff, but a kinda creepy feel. It was awesome. The entire place looked like it was stuck in time, right down to the old, metal room keys.

We arrived mid-afternoon on a weekday and I swear the only person we saw until dinnertime was the hotel concierge – except for this one girl, who almost literally fell at our feet.

We were all walking around before dinner, you know taking in the town, checking out the Mothman exhibits, when we paused to sit on Main Street and discuss dinner plans. A car came to a sudden stop right in front of us and a girl tumbled out, screaming at her boyfriend. Ah, to be young and in love.

So she starts crying and walking up the street and sees me – the nut magnet – sitting there, holding my cell phone.

“Hey,” she calls out, sniffing. “Can I use your phone? I need to call someone to come get me. My boyfriend left me here.”

Oh, is that what happened? And here I thought you were just playing a twisted version of hide-and-seek.

It is impossible for me to tell someone no, even when common sense is telling – no screaming – at me to deny her request. So I handed her my phone, and she started walking down the street with it. It’s also not in me to confront people, so I just watched, with a stupid look on my face, I’m sure, while she walked away with my phone.

Fortunately, her boyfriend was crazy jealous and she came back a minute later, giving me my phone back – so I could tell her boyfriend that I’ve never met her before, I’m just some random stranger who let another random stranger use my phone. Because, yes, I’m that stupid.

I don’t know if he believed me or not, but he got off the phone, I got my phone back and he came back for his girlfriend. We had dinner at the local restaurant, dessert at Benigan’s and continued on our camping adventure at Babcock State Park.

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Camping tips from the Trips of Horrors

Every year I go on a camping trip with some friends from college. And every year, disaster strikes.

Every year I go on a camping trip with some friends from college. And every year, disaster strikes.

If any of you reading this ever worked in college media, then you understand when I say if you come out of working the newsroom with friends, they’re keepers. There are few things that can bond people the way newspapering can, except maybe a combat zone. No disrespect to our soldiers, but that is exactly what I felt like I was in most days. It was a game of intrigue, never knowing who was really telling it true and who was using us to meet an agenda. And it wasn’t that every step was treacherous because I never knew what was going to set off a land mine – I knew every step was a land mine. It was just a matter of managing the explosions. The only people I knew I could count on were my brothers and sisters in arms, but at times even that was a small group.

So when I say that my friends and I have been through a lot together, former college journalists understand. Still, the newsroom did not prepare us for The Annual Camping Trip of Horrors. These camping trips have become the stuff of nightmares, with treacherous raccoons, deadly waterfalls, and hikes of doom.

Through all these shenanigans, we’ve gathered some great stories and learned some hard lessons.

The Glade Creek Grist mill was rebuilt in 1976 in Babcock State Park.

The Glade Creek Grist mill was rebuilt in 1976 in Babcock State Park.

This camping tradition started in 2009, with Lacey, who you’ve met before, and Jesse, a friend beget in the newsroom. He and I used to have all sorts of fun writing news stories that made the administration sweat, and then we’d go tramp through parks and attend concerts in our spare time. I can’t remember which of our trio thought it would be fun to go camping, but we decided to hit up West Virginia for the inaugural trip. Since then, we’ve camped at Red River Gorge, Big South Fork, J. Percy Priest and Cedars of Lebanon State Parks.   Continue reading

Up next: Summer shenanigans

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Summer is finally here! It’s been so great not having to deal with cold, crappy weather. Even the rain this spring hasn’t been so bad, or at least it hasn’t interfered with my plans too much. But on the occasion when I am cooped up, or in the evenings at home, I’ve been planning some projects for the summer. Usually, I try to stay away from previews on this blog – it’s part of managing expectations. I don’t like to make promises and then not deliver.

However, I’m super excited about this summer, and some of the adventures I’m about to introduce have already started, so I’m confident I’ll get through them this summer. Without further ado, I present to you my summer adventures!

Gettin’ my nerd on

I try to keep my nerd hidden, but sometimes it slips, usually when it comes to historical things. History was always my favorite subject in school; I’m fascinated by how it  overlaps with everyday life. I see history in layers. Where I am right now is one layer, but if you peel some back, you’ll find my apartment gone and just a wild, land filled with Indians, then Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone.

Right now, the layer I’m fascinated with is the Underground Railroad and Civil War. The Ohio River was a main thoroughfare for escaping slaves, and subsequently there are many Underground Railroad stations in the area. Of course, Kentucky’s strategic geographical location made it the location of several Civil War Battles, so there is much history to explore in Kentucky as well.

Over the coming months, I’ll be exploring as many of these locations I can find.  In the meantime, if you have a suggestion of somewhere to check out, please leave it in the comments. I have a huge list of places to visit, but I know I haven’t found everything.

Hiking, camping and general outdoorsy stuff

I’m still stubbornly working on increasing my endurance and lung capacity so I can hike over longer distances, so I’ll be sharing my misadventures along the trails in the Tri-state area. Along with these adventure posts, I’ll finally start updating more of the Gus Scale posts – my ranking for trails in the area. I’ve found that many of the descriptions of trails really aren’t accurate, or detailed enough. Something that is called “moderate” has me about to die after a quarter mile. \

That’s not moderate.

So I have a slightly different rating scale that’s handy for other cripples, like me, or people who just want to know how easy or difficult it is to navigate a certain area.

Vagabond Girls

Last year, before my body broke down, Lacey and I were working on starting a joint blog project to document our adventures. We met up at The Highland – a great coffeehouse in Clifton – bought a domain, set up a blog and started working. Then life intervened, and we realized it would just be better to keep the Vagabond Girls theme, but make it separate sections on our respective blogs.

She’s working on getting her blog revamped and relaunched – with some nagging from me – and I can’t wait to read her musings on the world. We have several smaller adventures in the works this summer, but we’re also working on some bigger ones a little further in the future, including a driving tour to Alaska and eventually to the tip of South America.

Washington, Ky.: Take a walk through time

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Historic Washington Village, Ky., just south of Maysville, offers a bundle of history, shopping and entertainment. Visitors can schedule a guided walking tour calling 606-759-7411, or take in the town at their own pace, using signs posted throughout the town. Washington features  log cabins dating from the 1790s and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The more I explore Kentucky, the more surprised I am by how many very interesting and beautiful things lurk in the next holler. Even though I moved to Kentucky with the intention of only staying long enough to finish my degree, I don’t really ever plan to leave. You know, unless I happen to find a Montana cowboy. I suppose then I could be persuaded to leave my rolling hills for more wide open spaces.

Maybe.

Historic Washington isn't the kind of town you'll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago,  but the imperfections only add to its charm.

Historic Washington isn’t the kind of town you’ll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago, but the imperfections only add to its charm.

One of the places that inspired me recently was a small village just south of Maysville, Ky. Its store-lined Main Street looks like something from a painting, the sight helped along by the number of period buildings still standing. Washington isn’t the kind of place you go to see something restored in pristine condition – it isn’t that kind of tourist attraction. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap at all. Many of the old homes are private residences, and are opened to the public only for certain events. Of the places that are open to the public, they are accessible only on a walking tour through the town.

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A long stretch of flagstone sidewalks stretch from Mefford’s Fort to the Visitor’s Center.

We visited in late spring, when the town was still waking up from winter. There were some vendors on the sidewalk in front of the Old Courthouse Lawn (more on that location later), and more traffic through the various shops than I expected. I can’t say the buildings were in pristine shape, but they weren’t ramshackle, either. You will see some minor wear and tear, maybe a missing or damaged shutter here and there, but all of these things add to the charm of the town. I’ve been to fully-restored historic towns, forced to keep to a certain code so they always look just-so, and they do not have the charm and personality of Washington.

When I walk on flagstone sidewalks along Main Street, it’s easy to imagine hearing the clop of hooves on the road. What is harder to imagine is the impact the people of this blip on the map have had on the world.

In the beginning, there was an explorer.

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Many of the first settlers of the village  were Revolutionary War veterans.

Washington Village, now part of Maysville, Ky., is older than the state in which it resides. It was one of the first towns established in modern-day Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, and the first town named after George Washington. It’s a whole lot of firsts. Washington was founded in 1786 by Revolutionary War Veteran William Wood and many of the original settlers were Revolutionary War soldiers, and are buried at the Old Baptist Cemetery just outside town.

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Fun story: This log cabin used to be a flatboat. And then 13 people lived in it. Its the only known remaining flatboat cabin left in the country.

One of the most memorable things about Washington is the number of log cabins still standing that date to the town’s founding in the late 1700s. One of these, Mefford’s Fort, is the last known flatboat cabin still standing. Mefford was in on the whole repurposing trend about 300 years before it was cool. He floated his wife and children down the Ohio River, then hauled the boat about five miles uphill from the river and made a log cabin out of his boat. His wife and 13 children shared this house. All I can say is it’s a good thing they didn’t have indoor plumbing. There would have been bloodshed in that house over the bathroom.

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The log cabin post office is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

As one of the first settlements, it’s post office became the first established west of the Appalachian Mountains and served the entire Northwest Territory, which encompassed Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The original post office was torn down in 1848, but the existing building is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

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The area used to be filled with cane brakes like this one behind the Bluegrass Artisan Center.

Other cabins in the town include the Cane Brake Visitor’s Center and the Simon Kenton Shrine. The town’s Visitor Center now occupies the Paxton House on the opposite end of Main Street, and the Cane Brake cabin has become the Bluegrass Artisan Center. Simon Kenton never lived in the cabin named for him, but he did once own a store in the town and sold the land for the town to its original settlers. The town still honors its earliest explorer the third weekend in September with the Simon Kenton Festival.

A town divided over slavery

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The Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery and didn’t reunite until over 100 years later.

Much of the advertised history of Washington relates to the Civil War and Underground Railroad. As a border state, Kentucky tried to stay neutral and act as a liaison between the two sides. But just as this approach didn’t work for the state, staying neutral didn’t work at the town level, either. The debate trickled into a church congregation and ripped it apart. In 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington split over the issue of slavery.

The congregation in Washington became the Methodist Episcopal Church South and had a separate slave gallery that was removed in the 1970s, according to the inscription outside the building. The Methodist Episcopal Church North relocated to Third Street in Maysville. More than 100 years later, the congregations reunited as the Trinity United Methodist Church.

Dueling generals

This house sheltered two men who both attended the same Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then opposite sides of the Civil War.

This house sheltered two men who both attended Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then fought on opposite sides of the Battle of Shiloh in the Civil War.

Nowhere is there a better example of the divide in Kentucky than the Albert Sydney Johnston House on Court Street.

This quiet, white dwelling housed two men who eventually faced each other on opposite sides of the Civil War.

Johnston, the home’s namesake, spent time in the United States Army before retiring to join the Texas Army. He then returned to the U.S. Army only to again retire to join the Confederacy. He became a general in the Confederate Army, taking a mortal wound early at the Battle of Shiloh.

Also fighting at the Battle of Shiloh was Union General William “Bull” Nelson. His family took up residence in this house after Johnston’s father died. Both men attended the same Presbyterian Church in Washington, both men attended West Point and both men fought at the Battle of Shiloh. But where Johnston’s story ends there, Nelson’s continues until his murder in 1862.

Nelson was known for publicly disciplining his officers. One of them, General Jefferson C. Davis – not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis – gunned him down in a hotel after one of these public disciplinary sessions by Nelson some time before.  Davis admitted to the murder, but was not charged or arrested and went back to duty about two weeks after the incident.

Inspiring “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

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Events on this bright green lawn inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

One of the things Washington is best known for isn’t a resident, but a famous visitor. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the town before she was married. At the time she was teaching in Cincinnati, and came to the small town to visit one of her students. While in Washington, she witnessed a slave auction on the Old Courthouse Lawn.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key home, where she visited Washington.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key house, where Stowe stayed while she visited.

The sight stayed with her and was one of the experiences that influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The courthouse burned down in 1909 after being struck by lightning. Today, the only thing to mark the dark history of the spot is the sign  commemorating the Old Courthouse.

While she was visiting, Stowe stayed at the Marshall Key house. Key was nephew to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.  Today, the home has been converted to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum and is available to tour.

All aboard the Underground Railroad

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The Paxton Inn (right) has a secret stairwell that was used in the Underground Railroad.

Northern Kentucky’s position along the Ohio River lent itself to several stops for the Underground Railroad. At least one of these stops was in Washington in the Paxton Inn. This Inn also served as an important community center where meetings were held to discuss important issues, including slavery. There is a secret stairway between the first and second floors where people could be hidden until they were moved across the Ohio River. I wonder if Underground Railroad passengers ever overheard one of these debates while they were in hiding?

Influencing international law

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One of my favorite Washington characters didn’t make the cut for the sign.

Even though Washington was host to some impressive visitors in its heyday, one of my favorite characters of the town would have been overlooked by most of the citizens. His story didn’t even make it to the inscription outside the home.

Thornton Blackburn was a slave who served in the Murphy-Lashbrooke house on Main Street. He was sold, eventually ending up in Louisville, where he escaped with his wife and fled along the Underground Railroad to Detroit. They lived there for about two years before being discovered and arrested in 1834. Detroit’s first race riot broke out while they were incarcerated, giving the Blackburn’s enough cover to escape from the city into Canada.

Once in Canada, slave hunters again located the couple and tried to arrest them and have them extradited to the States. But Canada refused to release the couple to United States custody, determining a person cannot steal himself, and establishing case law that determined once a slave set foot on Canadian soil he or she became a free man or woman.

The Blackburn’s earned a very American ending to their Canadian story. In Toronto, the Blackburns helped many slaves reach freedom in Canada, thanks to the law they helped create. They built a prosperous, influential life for themselves in Toronto. Blackburn became a successful businessman when he established the city’s first cab service. He chose yellow and red for his cab’s color scheme, and Toronto kept this when they adopted city transportation.

Washington’s worldwide influence

At the beginning of this story I promised that Washington residents had a worldwide impact.  So far, we’ve talked about the Civil War and slavery issues stretching into Canada. Now, I’m going to shift focus a bit – to Pakistan.

I’m told there are ruins of a house on a golf course in Washington, but I haven’t found them. These ruins are what’s left of the former residence of Charles William Forman, a hemp farmer turned missionary to India. Forman tried to establish a mission to the slaves in Washington before leaving to attend the Centre College in Kentucky and then the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Forman settled in Lahore, India (now part of Pakistan). There, he established an English-speaking school, Rang Mahal School. The school added a college in 1865, and Forman continued helping develop the education system in the area.

The college in Lahore, now known as the Forman Christian College, has produced many notable alumni, including former Prime Ministers of both Pakistan and India, Pakistani and Indian senate members and presidents, diplomats, judiciary members, athletes, artists, military officers, journalists and business people.

Now, who among you would have thought that a hemp farmer from Kentucky would have helped create an education system half a world away? Be honest, now.

Visiting historic Washington Village

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The Washington Presbyterian Church was the second one established in the city.

I know there is much and more I missed in my self-guided tour of Washington. If anyone reading has a place, story or anecdote to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear more about the town.

Some of the information in this post came from the washingtonky.com website, but this site is not sponsored by Historic Washington or Maysville and does not appear to have been updated in quite some time. According to the women working in the Visitor’s Center the day I was there, this site was put together by one of the residents of the town. It lists several community events – including a Chocolate Festival – which the village no longer offers. My hosts explained that they had too many events and it was too much for the town and the shop owners to keep up with. The two events that the town still hosts include the Simon Kenton Festival the third weekend in September and the historic Christmas walk the first weekend in December. Plus, historic tours are offered from April through the first week in December.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

But for the weekends when there aren’t events, there are still several shops to check out in Washington.

Phyllis’s Antiques, David’s Brass Works and Elaine’s Gallery and Framing sits at the corner of Main and S. Court Street and carries a wide selection of Fenton glass, and everything you see in the picture to the right.

The 1790 Rowhouse Mall also contains some retail shopping, and was having a sort-of sidewalk sale the day I visited.

My favorite shop was the Strawberry Patch Country Store. It was a store-of-all-sorts with all kind of antique books, keys, tools, baseball cards, electronics, dishes … you name it. Don’t miss the upstairs or the basement.

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The Strawberry Patch Country Store was loaded with antiques. It was my favorite shop in the town.

I did not venture into The Grey Wolf with my backpack full of oxygen; it appeared to have some beautiful items but it was packed wall-to-wall with people. The Iron Gate is next door to The Grey Wolf, but was not open the day I visited.

I would encourage a visit to the nearby Baptist Cemetery when you visit the village. It is just south of main street off US 68. There was no sign for the cemetery, but there is the telltale log cabin standing vigil. Honestly, it appears to be about the only thing watching over the graves because many of the markers are falling or have fallen and broken.

I gave Historic Washington Village a two on the Gus Scale. The village proper is on relatively flat land and was incredibly easy to walk through. I would have rated it a one if not for the bumpy, though beautiful, flagstone sidewalks. If you’re someone who needs to use wheels to get around you won’t have quite as easy a time as I did.

#TBT Manhattan Beach

I have a confession to make: I am terrified of the ocean.

Stepping into a large body of water – with or without a life jacket – creates a silent kind of mind-numbing terror. Part of this is that I literally sink like a Stone – its not just my last name, it’s what I turn into in water: total dead weight. I don’t even panic, I just fall into a calm state of giving up. I accept the water as it wraps its cold arms around me and drags me to the bottom of the abyss.

When we reached the Pacific Ocean on this trip, it was late at night. Around midnight, I think. We were bone-tired but we knew that we wouldn’t have much time the next day to spend at the beach, so Amanda and I dropped off our bags and my brother at the hotel and set off for a late night rendezvous with the Pacific. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks off the shore, so we didn’t have far to go. I had been to the beach before, but in Florida several years before. That did not prepare me for the sight of the ocean at night.

Ink and infinity is how I remember it. It was a cloudy night, so the only light came from the shore behind us. Everything was black: the sand, the water, the sky. There was really no way to tell where one thing ended and another began. We stayed a safe distance from the water, but when we stopped to sit, I couldn’t shake a nervous feeling. If that water came up just a little too far and swept me off my feet, I knew I’d never be found. I would give up and let the water take me where it willed.

We walked quite a distance on the shore that night, stopping at a couple of guard stands. We passed few others enjoying the quiet night – if deafening waves can be considered a “quiet.” Despite the terror playing on the edges of my consciousness, I could have stayed there all night. But sleep overcame us and we crawled back to our warm beds.

#TBT Monument Valley

When you think of the American Southwest, you probably see a place like Monument Valley. You wouldn’t be the only one; it is one of the most photographed places in the West. With its sweeping vistas, towering rock formations and dry, dusty wind, it’s the perfect place to set down a saloon, strap on some spurs and sidle up to the bar for some whiskey to wet your parched throat. But what you will find missing from one of the most recognizable places in the American west is the cowboys.

Monument Valley rests entirely in Navajo Nation and straddles the state line between Utah and Arizona. Today, the Navajo Nation is the largest Tribal group and has the most sophisticated tribal government, but, like other Native tribes that faced relocation and forced assimilation, it has been a long road.

Their government was formed in response to requests to lease Navajo land after oil was discovered in the 1920s. But the reservation didn’t gain widespread notoriety until its first brush with Hollywood when John Ford directed “Stagecoach” there in 1939. Since then, 12 movies have been filmed in Monument Valley.

Part of the fun of visiting the valley is getting to travel through Navajo Nation. I’m a sucker for any kind of roadside stand – you can find the coolest things there. Monument Valley does not disappoint; there’s a market not far from the park entrance.

There is one main road – US 163 – that snakes its way through the valley.  Once you get into Monument Valley, there is a large visitor’s center that has a panoramic window with a view that doesn’t even look real. I’m not kidding. I looked out the glass and thought I was looking at a picture. I can try to wax poetic about it, but I’ll just sound silly and won’t do it justice. Just go see it. Put Monument Valley on your bucket list, push it to the top and go.

There are a couple of ways to see the valley: drive yourself or take a guided tour. We decided to drive ourselves. There’s a great visitor’s center before you drive the loop. We ran a little Toyota Corolla through and it handled it like a champ, even if we didn’t. When I make it back, I’m definitely checking out one of the guided tours. There are a few reasons for this. First off, I can still feel my bones jarring from the drive. I’m not complaining – a smooth, paved road would seriously detract from all that natural beauty. I am warning you though. If you have back problems, this may not be the drive for you. Also take advantage of the facilities before you start jarring your bladder.

Yes, if you drive yourself you get the freedom to go at your own pace and you don’t have to interact with people if you’re not feelin’ it. But you’re restricted to the road and can’t venture far from it. If you take a tour with one of the many tour operators you get insider backstory and access to more locations within the park – including sites off the main road.

Another option we did not take advantage of on this trip was the Piute Farms Road route. According to The American Southwest, this road leads to the site of a former Navajo Marina on Lake Powell. The marina was destroyed by flooding in 1989, and the lake has receded from the road, but the little-traveled dirt road offers a less populated perspective of the valley. The link above gives more information about how to find this road and warns that four wheel drive may be needed for part of it.

A good remedy for working out the kinks after a bumpy ride could be hitting one of the hiking trails in the valley. There is only one official trail. The Wildcat Trail around the West Mitten Butte.  Just remember that there are private residences in Monument Valley so it is important to be respectful of posted boundaries.

 

My top 5 travel apps

I don’t know about you, but I’m usually I’m getting alerts that my memory is full on all my devices, so I have to go through and delete all nonessential apps. By nonessential, I mean apps other than Instagram and my bank. The only games on my phone are those my friend’s kids download and play. (They act all excited to see me, but I know better. The second thing that comes out of their cute little faces when I come through the door is: “Can I play with your phone?!”)

Its been a couple of months since I looked for new apps, so I loaded up again a few weeks ago. Here are some new – or at least new to me – apps that I’m super excited about.


Yonder

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My favorite thing about Yonder is the feed. Its kind of like Instagram, only its just picture after picture of places I want to go.

This app reminds me of Instagram, except focused on outdoor activities. You start out by picking different activities that you are interested in, and then your feed will feature images of people doing those things or the scenery where they are doing it. This is almost as addictive to me as Instagram – when I sign in my feed is just picture after picture of scenic vista.

Other than just giving a list of photos, There’s a map function built into the app that lets you search for Yonders in a specific area. So if you’re wandering around, looking for inspiration, you can pull up a map of the area and see if there is anything you’d like to see. Or, you can troll for adventures and create a to be explored list.


Findery

Where would you like to explore today?

Where would you like to explore today?

Near or far? That’s the question posed when you open Findery. This app pulls anything from historical markers to museums, past notable events or public artwork – such as the various Shepard Fairey murals around Cincinnati. The first thing that pops on my Near list is the ventriloquism museum in nearby Southgate, Ky. Findery will send you alerts of notable places in your area, a handy trick when you are travelling. Plus, their app will be on the Apple Watch, if you’re into that sort of thing. (I haven’t been won over to the whole watch thing yet. I admit, it took me a few years to get on to the whole iPad/tablet wagon, so I’m sure I’ll get won over eventually.)

Findery also has the cool map search feature – pull up a map, zoom to the area you’re interested in and explore away! I still think the coolest thing about this app is the overlapping information it provides. If I’m in an area and close to a cool point of interest, I like having a note sent to me so I can check it out while I’m close by. Plus, if I want a cup of coffee, I can find out just where the locals go.


Roadtrippers

I'm using Roadtrippers to help plan my upcoming road trip to Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, Md.

I’m using Roadtrippers to help plan my upcoming road trip to Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, Md.

This one isn’t new, or new to me. Its more like a rediscovered-to-me app. I have used it before for past road trips, but its been a couple of years and I forgot about it. Plus, it has changed a bit. When I used this before, I used the Roadtrippers.com website. It is a fantastic, all-around trip planner. You can use it kind of like a traditional map and get directions from Point A to Point B. But where this app really shines is the layers. Save locations to eat, sleep, shop and play, and even get tips for great scenic overlooks. One drawback that some reviewers commented on is the inability to check mileage and time between locations. But honestly, I think the pros way outweigh the cons with this one.

You can make multiple trips and they sync across devices. So if you’re like me and have too many electronics laying around, you can work on your laptop, carry that map over to your iPhone while your driving but then tweak that trip on your Android tablet while you’re eating dinner on the road. As long as you have a wireless connection, it all stays synced up. My favorite feature: It computes gas cost!


All Trails

I love being able to save my tracks so I can keep track of what I have accomplished.

I love being able to save my tracks so I can keep track of what I have accomplished.

I’ve been ALL OVER this app since downloading it. As the weather warms up – and on the rare Spring days when its not raining or flooding – I’ve been hiking as much as possible. It’s fun, it gets me out of the house and it’s good exercise. I have a decent working knowledge of parks and trails in the area just from my own explorations in the last few years. So a lot of the local trails listed are places I have been to, or at the very least know about. But the feature I like about this app the most is the trail reviews.

Pre-busted lungs I didn’t care so much about getting a detailed review. Just knowing how long the trail was was enough for me. Now, I have to make sure I’m packing enough oxygen, so I need to know a little bit more about how rugged the trails are so I know I’m prepared and not stuck in the woods gasping for air. The trail reviews on this app are fantastic for getting detail. Plus, I can make wishlists of new trails to check out when I get bored with the ones close to home.

Another cool feature is the tracker. Start this when you start your hike and it will track where you are, how far you go, how long it takes you and you can save it to your maps when you’re finished. You can even add photos from your hike to your map to help remember what you saw.


Tripcast

Tripcast sorts photos by location - not chronology - so you can always remember exactly where you saw that crazy road sign.

Tripcast sorts photos by location – not chronology – so you can always remember exactly where you saw that crazy road sign.

I may be almost 30 years old, but I still check in with Dad almost every night when I’m away from home. Part of it is to set his mind at ease; I don’t need him having a heart attack. And part of it is so the authorities have a point of reference should I ever go missing. Part of what started this blog was daily updates for everyone back home, but Tripcast basically takes little trip updates and publishes them like a Tweet or an Instagram post.

Create an event and you’re good to go. Users can post photos, videos, or updates and any of it can be tagged to a map. Basically, it organizes your information based on location, not by chronology.

#TBT: Yosemite National Park

When I was going back through the video for this part of the trip, I didn’t come across many clips. I also couldn’t remember much about visiting the park. I remember Bridal Veil Falls and that was about it. So I looked up the first telling of this story.

Not much there either.

By this point of the trip we’d gone as far west as we were going to and had started the return trip home. With only a few days left on the trip, we were tired and tired of eating out of the trunk of the car. We were tired of sleeping in tents. And we were disappointed that we weren’t able to finish going up the West Coast to Washington.

After the excitement the night we arrived in San Francisco — the night we thought we had enough time to drive to Seattle — we just crashed. In the time it took to try to map out a route from northern California to Seattle, we realized there just wasn’t enough time. We went from being at the top of El Capitan to the bottom of Death Valley. The Gypsy Trip had switched from embarking on an exciting adventure to finishing out a list of places to see on our way home. That was how we treated Yosemite: Not as a place to explore and experience, but as a place to come in, check out the high points, and high-tail it out to the next destination.

in retrospect, I wish we’d taken the extra time to go up the coast. It would have been impossible to do it on the timeline we agreed to, and I would never have been able to get back to work on time. I was worried about getting in trouble for attendance, but I shouldn’t have been. I came back to work for about two weeks before leaving permanently for an internship. What’s the worst they could have done? Fire me for my last two weeks? So here’s the lesson to take away from my trip to Yosemite: Take the extra days NOW. You never know where life will take you, so enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Featured image credit: From Flickr Creative Commons, By Edward Stojakovic. 

Ohio Day Trip: Covered Bridges

The first road trip of the season is always my favorite. It’s the first time you get to shake the dust off, work out the kinks and get lost trying to find something. The only thing I was waiting for this spring was a free Saturday with clear weather, and I finally got one in late March. It was a chilly day – the high was only around 40 degrees – but the sun was shining and the puffy clouds in the azure sky couldn’t have been more perfect if someone painted them. They were the ideal backdrop for covered bridge hunting in southwestern Ohio.

Ohio has one of the largest collections of covered bridges left in the nation, and seven of them fall in about a 70 square mile area. The path between the bridges will take you along the Ohio River, past Underground Railroad Stations, through the rugged terrain of southern Ohio and over the rolling hills of Amish Country. You’ll pass suburban sprawl and a host of what I affectionately call “dumpy little towns” – the kinds of places I wouldn’t mind living. My dad and brother are into covered bridges in that guy/building kind of way. They like to look at how things are put together and talk about it, you know, knocking on walls and things. Mom and me? We just think they’re pretty. So we loaded into the car Griswold-style and set off.

The route connecting the bridges covers about 75 miles and would take about two hours to complete. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to add time to get to and from the beginning and end of the route and time to explore around the bridges. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have some time to climb around in the creeks (once the weather warms up) and check out all the local businesses you’ll be passing along the way.

I’ve lived in the Greater Cincinnati area my entire life. Part of my childhood was spent in suburban Milford and part of it in more rural Brown County. The rolling corn fields of Brown County are by far my favorite. The only thing that stops me from moving that far off the beaten track is getting to work. I love road trips, but I hate, hate, HATE commuting. Of course, when I lived there 20 years ago the only places to shop were Pamida and IGA and now many of the towns have built up. There are Kroger stores and Wal-mart stores and subdivisions; it’s fallen victim to the ever-permeating suburban sprawl. Still, most of the area is full of stately old farmhouses, dilapidated barns and rolling farmland.

This time of year, the land hasn’t come back to life yet. Trees are still bare and fields are not plowed. The grass is just showing the first hints of green. But the sun is shining and the cows and horses we pass seem as excited for the spring as we are.

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#TBT: Death Valley

#ThrowbackThursday: Each Thursday, I revisit a past adventure and publish more of the story than made the first cut.. Beginning the series, I will be recounting parts of the Gypsy Trip – a cross-country endeavor in 2010.  

I really love Thursdays. Its the day that – even though its still within the work week – I get to go on a little adventure. Sure, I’m still technically stuck at my desk watching the clouds roll by outside my window, but for a few minutes I can pull out some old video and relive some pretty amazing adventures. This week we’re traveling back to Death Valley.

It’s hot. It’s dry. It’s dusty. It lives up to its name. But it is also beautiful.

Like just about everywhere I’ve ever been, I want to go back to spend more time. We really only made one stop off on the Gypsy Trip and that was at Zabriskie Point. There was a reason for this that I went into greater detail on the first telling of this story. Without rehashing too much, it was the setting of a cult classic Amanda – one of my travel partners on that trip – had seen. It involved stealing a jet, an orgy in Death Valley and then crashing the jet. Since Amanda’s YouTube channel is gone, and along with it the video, I thought I’d put up my version of the story. It’s ridiculous, and therefore awesome. Amanda is the blonde narrating at the end of the clip; my brother Cory is the guy helping her with the reenactment.

Also in this week’s video are a few snippets of video that I finally edited down. You’ll get some scenic vistas of dusty Death Valley, some complaints from me about needing to “Q.” (Because we felt like we had better manners if we weren’t constantly complaining about how badly we needed to find a ladies room in the middle of nowhere, and called it “Q” instead of “P.”)