It’s Only Natural

It was supposed to be raining when I woke up in Maggie Valley. When I’d decided to hunker down for the day, to sit-out the storm, I had visions of sleeping late, enjoying a long leisurely meal or two, and just, you know, hanging out.

So why is it that my first thought upon seeing dry pavement was, “I can ride today after all.” Maybe it’s a sickness.

Since I was close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), and I had yet to make it to Clingman’s Dome — highest point in GSMNP — I figured that would be a good destination. Once it did start raining, I told myself, I’d be close to shelter.

It didn’t take long at all — 20 minutes? — for me to reach the park entrance, which is near the southern terminus of the BRP. Unfortunately, when I did, I was greeted by a sign proclaiming US-441 to be closed. The Oconaluftee Visitors Center is just inside the park entrance, so I went in to find out exactly where the closure began, hoping I could reach the summit. But it was not to be.

“Actually,” one of the rangers manning the desk told me, “the Tennessee side of the park is currently being evacuated.” What?!?

The weather on the Tennessee side of the park was much worse. There were reports of trees down all over the place, falling on people and cars.

So I headed back toward Maggie Valley. I couldn’t resist stopping for some pics along the way, figuring I might as well make the most of my outing while the weather held. Here are some snapshots I judged to be worthy of sharing. Many are grainy because it was so overcast.

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It was interesting to see the difference in the foliage at lower and higher elevations. I hadn’t expected to see so many bare trees. You’ll see the change as I move from lower points near the end of the Parkway, up and into the mountains.

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Ferns
Ferns

 

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

 

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Mountain Laurel

 

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Natural Hearts

 

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Still pretty green, right?

 

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Looking a bit browner.

 

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Teeny Tiny Little Blossoms

 

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Green at lower elevations.

 

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The hilltops were still mostly brown.

 

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Odd name for a tunnel.

 

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You can see the sky getting grayer.

 

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Pretty little yellow flowers.

 

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Moss and lichen-covered trees.

 

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Moss and lichen-covered trees.

 

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Not much green at all.

 

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Tiny purple flower.

 

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Wintry-looking.

 

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If nothing else, I got to see some pretty cool clouds moving in. It was getting colder, too.

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Menacing Clouds

 

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Menacing Clouds

 

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It sure looked like I was about to get rained on.

 

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Cool Clouds

 

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Hints of Pink

 

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Roadside Cascade

 

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Same cascade.

Temps were in the upper 40s by the time I decided to head back to my motel. So that was my morning.

Final note… this post has been in the works for a week. I caught a stupid head cold/upper respiratory think that’s had me coughing/hacking/gagging and blowing my nose for a week. As an extra bonus, each day ended with a pounding headache, too. Last night’s was so bad, I thought maybe I was dying. Needless to say, we didn’t do any riding over the long, holiday weekend. Maybe this coming weekend I’ll feel better.

Fall Color Found

treeFall is my favorite time of year. I love the cool, crisp air, but I especially love seeing all of the colorful leaves.

This year, either I am too anxious to see color and it seems like it’s taking FOREVER, or the change is a bit later than usual. I think it’s the latter, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that I finally got to see some amazing color on Friday, but I had to work for it.

After being laid off from my job without warning (don’t worry, that’s old news), I suddenly felt like I had lots of free time on my hands. That’s not entirely true, because I had to find a new job, and that takes a lot of work. But working to find a new job didn’t prevent me from daydreaming about taking a motorcycle ride through the mountains. And since I typically work for contract research organizations, and there are several of those in North Carolina, I came up with a plot to schedule things carefully and line-up a bunch of interviews next week in NC.

Sounds like a great plan, right? I thought so. But then I was offered a job with a company in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I start on Monday. That’s tomorrow.

It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, even if it does mean I can’t go to North Carolina. So I planned a trip to West Virginia instead. I was going to go on Thursday and spend the night on the road, but the areas I wanted to see were forecasting rain, which would have been miserable, so I went on Friday. Just for the day.

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The drive into Dolly Sods on FR75.

I revisited the Dolly Sods, a place Hubby and I had gone to by car from the WV Place in 2010. The Dolly Sods is a wilderness area that sits at an elevation of about 4,000 feet atop the Allegheny Plateau. It is one of many areas of interest in the Monongahela National Forest. The Dolly Sods is significant because of its elevation and what that means to the flora and fauna.

Much of West Virginia is pretty mountainous, but the mountains aren’t very high (the highest peak is only 4,863 feet). It’s been said that many areas of the Dolly Sods are like high-alpine regions in Canada. The snowshoe hare can even be found there.

We’ve ridden our motorcycles near the Dolly Sods many, many times, but never ventured into the actual wilderness area because it is known for its rough, dirt and gravel roads. It is a wilderness, after all. Descriptions of the route into The Sods said something to the effect of “the road climbs the Allegheny Front.”

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Terrain map showing the Allegheny Front.

In 2010, we entered from the southern end. Yesterday, I entered from the north. The road goes up, and up, and up — five miles from the hard-surface road — before you finally reach the top of the Allegheny Plateau. Hubby’s GPS software plotted a graph showing our elevations at various points on the trip down and back, which clearly shows the extreme elevation change entering and leaving the Dolly Sods.

Hubby's 2010 GPS track of the elevation change.
Hubby’s 2010 GPS track of the elevation change.

In all, it’s just over 18 miles of hard-packed dirt, gravel, and rock (as in boulders embedded in the ground) road. It’s full of some very large potholes, with washboard ruts in many places because it’s a very well-traveled road. The ride up was so bumpy, I bet I stood for about a third of the climb.

It was so worth it, though. Far too many pictures follow as proof.

If you come here mainly to read my words, you may want to stop scrolling now. 🙂

Remember, click on any image for a bigger view.

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The forest along FR75 into Dolly Sods.

 

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Northern entrance at the edge of the plateau.

 

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Looking north from just inside the entrance.

 

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Looking west across the plateau.

 

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A riot of color.

 

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I couldn’t get enough of the color.

 

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The blue sky makes a perfect backdrop.

 

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It’s usually windy, hence the one-sided tree.

 

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Looking east from atop Bear Rocks.

 

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I took lots of pictures.

 

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One of the most-photographed rocks.

 

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Looking north and east.

 

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Not a bad spot for my picnic lunch, eh?

 

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I couldn’t have picked a prettier day.

 

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The red bushes are blueberries and/or cranberries.

 

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Very large conglomerate rocks.

 

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Rocks and color.

 

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One-sided tree (from the wind).

 

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I really couldn’t get enough of the reds, greens, and blues interspersed with rocks.

 

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Yes, I realize this is repetitive.

 

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This is one of my favorites, I think.

I DID warn you there were lots of pictures, right? I’m not done sharing yet. LOL.

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Seriously, isn’t the color amazing?

 

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See my bike? I bet the place was mobbed on Saturday.

 

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The colors just made me so happy!

 

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Quaking Aspens! In West Virginia!

 

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Yet another color shot.

 

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The clouds were pretty cool, too.

 

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Trail into the forest.

 

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Trees and cotton-top flowers (or something like that).

 

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The scenery was just breathtaking.

 

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More Color

 

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Cotton-top flowers (or something like that).

 

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Beaver Pond

 

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Same pond, slightly different angle.

 

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Looking North

 

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Looking South from the Same Spot

 

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More Color

 

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The reds were really vibrant.

 

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Straight out of the camera.

 

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The yellows were pretty bright, too.

 

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Pretty, right?

 

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Pretty Yellow Tree

 

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RED!

It was darn pretty atop that plateau, but it was nice on the way down, too. The next pics were captured along the road at the south end.

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Headed down FR19.

 

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Tunnel of Color

 

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Colorful Forest

 

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Maple!

 

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I love being in the woods.

 

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The tunnel of color continued for miles.

 

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Pretty Foliage

 

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I slid to a halt when I saw that multi-colored tree.

 

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The view as a whole wasn’t bad either.

 

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Looking east from near that multi-colored tree.

 

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And on the tunnel continued…

That’s it for the Dolly Sods pics. But here’s one last capture from not far south along US-220/WV-28…

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Champe Rocks, just north of Seneca Rocks.

Even in West Virginia, the color is still spotty at lower elevations. But it’s slowly, but surely, getting more and more colorful closer to home.

Most-Unusual Wear Pattern

I found a very interesting seashell at Virginia Beach last week. It was actually just a piece of a shell. Most of the shells I was seeing were completely pulverized.

I’ve been told shells get pulverized like that when there’s a dredging/beach replenishment effort in an area. I can’t say whether that’s the case in Virginia Beach or not, but I do know there were lots of rocks/stones and pulverized shells along the beach.

That’s okay, because even small things can be interesting, whether they are whole or not.

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Most-Interesting Wear Pattern

I though the wear pattern on this piece of shell was really cool. You’re looking at the inside of what was once a much-thicker shell. The other side just looks like the outside of any other unremarkable shell.

The pic is grainy because it’s an extreme close-up, taken with my phone while I was sitting on the beach. That piece is actually pretty little. I’d guesstimate bigger than a dime, but smaller than a nickel.

Let’s see…

Compared to Coins
Compared to Coins

I did find one shell that looked to be pretty perfect.

A Perfect Shell
A Perfect Shell

But it was hard to tell without my close-up-vision glasses.

Looks Deceiving
Looks Can Be Deceiving

Did you think that perfect shell would be so small? 🙂

The Rosiest Gal I Know

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A Labeled Specimen

I have met some really cool people since moving to Virginia in 2011. It’s hard to believe it has already been five years! Well, not officially five until September 30/October 1, but that’s close enough. Sometimes it still feels so new…

But, back to me having met COOL people. One of the interesting localish ladies I’ve befriended is Connie Stevens Hilker. Some of you may remember her from this 2014 post of mine. According to the bio on Connie’s blog…

…I started Hartwood Roses, an educational rose garden in Virginia that specializes in rare and unusual antique roses. I know a lot about roses, old houses, carpentry and remodeling, and am an expert day dreamer. You will often find me working in the garden, planning a home project, building something, or hanging out in a cemetery …all of this has come in handy as my husband and I restore our historic home (built in 1848) renovate the outbuildings, and design the gardens.

She loves animals, too. She’s a supporter of dog rescue. She paints furniture. She’s just a really fun gal. And she’s married to a guy named, Steve, an artist who also seems like a cool chap. Here’s a recent pic of the two of them from Connie’s blog…

Steve and Connie
Steve and Connie

Aren’t they a cute couple? They’re grandparents, too.

Now for the point of this post… Connie and Steve hosted an open house/walking garden tour this past May. It’s an annual thing, I think. After seeing all of their preparations online, I thought it would be fun to go.

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Illustrated Map of the Property

There was a map and everything. If you click on any of the images in this post, a larger version will open so you can see details.

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Hartwood Manor – photo courtesy of Connie

 

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There were LOTS of different rose varieties.

I hadn’t told Connie I was coming. She was a little surprised to see me, but I think Steve was more surprised to see this granny pull into his yard on a motorcycle. I hadn’t met Steve before that day. Of course, I felt like I knew him to some degree through Connie and her social media posts.

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That’s Connie on the left chatting-up some other visitors.

It’s a big yard with a lot of different gardens and planting areas.

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Front Hybrid Tea Rose beds, laid out English-garden-style.

 

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Rear outbuildings; L-R, Carriage House Garage, The Shack, and the Greenhouse.

 

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There’s the large Miniature Garden behind the outbuildings.

 

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The Barn and Cottage toward the rear of the property.

 

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English Rose garden near The Barn

 

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Rose Tree (a climbing rose went crazy, resulting in this happy accident)

That’s an overview of the property. Isn’t it delightful?

Now for a bunch of pictures of their gorgeous roses.

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One of my favorite pics from the day.

 

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This flower is a unique shade of dusty lavender; the pic doesn’t do it justice.

 

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Tea Rose

 

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This is a George Washington cabbage rose that dates back to 1860!

 

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Tea Rose

 

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My Favorite Flower

 

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Connie  did a post back in June — she’s FAR more timely than me — with pics where she labeled a lot of the roses.

If you’d like to read more about their old house, check out the “home” section of Connie’s blog. WARNING: you may fall in love with these peeps if you read all about how they restored that beautiful old barn.

Impressive, right?

Mountains Are Cool

Hubby and I drove out to Shenandoah National Park (SNP) last weekend. It’s been pretty hot here, so I haven’t been on my bike in weeks.

It was about 93 degrees and humid when we left the house on Sunday. The heat index — what it feels like with the humidity — was probably about 105. It was gross.

As is typical on hot, muggy days like that, there were thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon. I told Mike we’d probably see some pretty cool skies from Skyline Drive. He wasn’t excited.

It was about 75 degrees when we reached Skyline Drive. It was still humid, but it felt much better than the temps back down on the Piedmont.

Check out this awesome quilt that was on display at the Visitor’s Center.

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Centennial Quilt

The SNP Facebook page said…

Shenandoah National Park has a lot of exciting plans to celebrate the 100th year of the National Park Service! This past winter, Shenandoah staff and volunteers created a quilt representing Parks across the nation. The quilt is currently displayed at Byrd Visitor Center. Other quilt related events can also be found on our special events page. Visit our website to learn more about the hikes, programs and festivities at Shenandoah as we celebrate our 100th Birthday! https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/special_events.htm.

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Pretty Flowers at the Visitor’s Center

We were surprised to see a very large storm cloud approaching the lodge complex from the other side of the drive.

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Hubby watches large storm cloud rolling in.

 

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The sky looked clearer north of the Visitor’s Center.

 

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Pretty flower, but I have no idea what it is.

 

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The cluster of flowers was oddly waxy-feeling.

 

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Interesting cloud formations.

 

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Storms were definitely starting to pop up in various places.

 

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More interesting clouds.

 

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Hello, Grasshopper.

 

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Blue skies to the north.

I did say we’d see some interesting skies, right?

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Check out that downpour!

 

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Seeing such heavy, localized rain intrigued me.

 

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Look how dense that rain is!

A little while later, heading north, we saw a bear beside the road. I had to turn around and circle back for a better view. Buy then, he’d gone into the brush, so I didn’t get a decent picture.

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Raven!

You folks out West will probably laugh at me for sharing a picture of a Raven, but we don’t see them often. We have far more American Crows than Ravens. So, yes, I get excited when I see a Raven.

And that was our excitement last Sunday.

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Clear skies to the East.

It’s supposed to be cooler this week. Here’s hoping the weather folks are right. I am really, really tired of being in the house.

Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park

Hi there! In case you haven’t visited in a while, this post is basically the second half of the pics I captured during a recent visit (April 20, 2016) to Victoria, BC, Canada. You’ll have to be sure to see the first installment if you haven’t already. There were so many pretty park pics to share, I decided they deserved a post of their own.

Anyhoo… I really didn’t have much of a plan beyond meeting up with Dar in the late afternoon. I knew Victoria was pretty, based on my previous, very quick visit and posts I’d vaguely remembered seeing on Dar’s blog and Brandy’s blog. I was excited to just have a few hours to myself to just roam, sightsee, and do whatever I felt like doing, or NOT doing as the case may be. I grabbed a Victoria map on the ferry and, upon seeing that Beacon Hill Park looked to be relatively close to the harbor, I decided to go there. (Here’s a link if you want to learn more about the 200-acre park.)

Remember, you can click on any image to see a larger version.

Park Entrance
Park Entrance

Since Richard asked, I had to check and see how far I actually walked that day. It appears to have been roughly six miles (9.5 km) give or take. I criss-crossed the park a lot, so it’s hard to tell for sure. I was walking slowly and stopping a lot for pics and also just to enjoy some peaceful spots in the shade.

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm Spring day. There were lots and lots of flowers in bloom. And a bunch of other interesting stuff to see. I could have gone to a museum and/or shopping, but it was such a pretty day and it was just so darn gorgeous that I sort of just ambled around the city all day.

Here are some of the many images I captured.

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Woodland Pond

I didn’t enter the park through the main entrance pictured in that first shot. I’d just walked in the general direction of the park and entered on the first convenient path that I saw. And I didn’t have a map of the park, so I don’t remember what the various areas were called. Sorry. I was just ambling about.

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The biggest non-wild rhododendron I’ve ever seen.

 

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Same bush, different side. The bench helps give a sense of scale.

 

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Fiddlehead Ferns!

I may or may not have squealed aloud when I rounded a corner on a wooded path and saw this…

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The Moss Lady

I LOVE The Moss Lady.

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How awesome is she?

 

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There were pretty colors everywhere.

I am a visual, nature-loving person, so I was completely and utterly in my element.

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Such a peaceful place.

The view would be all green and serene, maybe with a pond or two. And ducks. Loads of ducks, geese and such. Then I’d round a corner and, BOOM, more color.

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An explosion of color.

Not that I am complaining. Trust me, I was absolutely delighted.

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Pretty azalea with lilac/blue flowers.

Some of my pics are a bit washed out because the sun was so bright, which is a shame. But I think you get the idea just how lovely a place it was.

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Unique azalea.

 

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Duck!

 

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Woodland Stream

 

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Pretty Tulip

 

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Winding path lined with many varieties of tulips, daffodils, and similar flowers.

 

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Hybrid daffodils.

 

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More daffodils and a lone, pink tulip.

 

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This one was in the shade, so you can see it’s form better.

 

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Do the colors on this one make you swoon? I gasped aloud when I saw the thing in person.

 

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One of the many spots I chose to just sit for a spell.

 

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More colorful loveliness.

I was so overwhelmed by all the loveliness that I actually forgot ScooterBob was with me. DOH! I can be such a dunce sometimes. All oohing and aahing about the stunning natural beauty around me instead of snapping opportunistic photos of my little globe-trotting wooden friend.

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ScooterBob at the wildflower meadow.

I never did get an image of that meadow good enough to do it justice. It was a veritable sea of purple before me. There was just too much sun at that time of day.

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Look closely and you’ll see a snow-capped mountain framed by those trees.

 

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Wildflower close-up.

 

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Tiny pond with bust of Queen Victoria (I think).

 

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Peacock (they are noisy suckers)

 

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Yet another pretty pond. And ScooterBob.

 

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Flowy willow tree.

 

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This is my favorite duck capture of the day.

Finally, my favorite nature scene of the day. A bunch of turtles on a floating log.

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I like turtles.

I actually stood there watching for a while. And laughing. While I have seen my share of turtles on logs, I’d never actually seen turtles on a floating log. It’s different, trust me. You’ll have to watch at least the first 45 seconds of the video I included below to see why.

 

That was my day at Beacon Hill Park. Yes, I’d go again in a heartbeat. Even if I had just one more day to spend in Victoria. Of course, I’d ask Dar to meet me there with a picnic meal, and perhaps an alcoholic beverage or two. 🙂