Tag Archive | outdoor adventures

Dogwood Canyon

Cedar Hill, TX

My pandemic adventures continue!

The only “safe” travel plans for me these days are those that are outdoors and where I can socially distance from others. This has led me to explore areas around Dallas when weather permits. This blog details a recent Saturday visit to Dogwood Canyon in Cedar Hill. Located just thirty minutes south of downtown Dallas, the landscape here looks as if you have driven five hours south, down around the Texas Hill Country.

Dogwood Canyon is a 200-acre wildlife refuge and forested nature preserve with hiking trails and bird-viewing areas. Due to Covid-19, the visitor center, classrooms, picnic area, restrooms, etc. are all closed but the trails are open. After researching the park, I made reservations online one week prior to our visit. The available admission times are Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and the center currently only allows 10 reservations per hour. The trails and parking lot gates are locked promptly at 2:00 so make sure you allow enough time to enjoy your visit.

Dogwood Canyon is a true canyon that rises 300 feet from the canyon floor to the highest hilltop ridge. Most of Texas lies in the Blackland Prairie region but this area is actually part of the White Rock Escarpment (once part of an ancient sea). When driving into the park on I-20 you will notice the white Austin chalk hills that reach an elevation of 800 feet in some areas. This is very unique geology for Dallas County.

This park opened in 2011 after the land was donated by a wealthy conservation-minded owner who had bought the land from a communications station. He had originally chosen to build a house but decided against it. There is an unusually large concrete pit in front of the visitor center that remains from the previous AT&T site when it was in operation. Instead of the land being a single-family home with acreage, it is now a natural ecosystem and home to many native trees, plants, birds and wildlife – some very rare or endangered.

As far as hiking options, there are three miles of trails within the forested canyon area. The Canyon Loop Trail is an easy half-mile trail near the visitor center. My husband and I took the more strenuous West Rim Trail which is a 1.65 mile trail with a modest 150 ft. elevation incline. This trail allows you panoramic views of the canyon, nearby areas, and Joe Pool Lake. It was very tranquil, quiet and most enjoyable. We only saw three other couples the entire time we were on the trail. Let’s just say this excursion was well within the Covid-19 guidelines for safety!

The leafy, unpaved trails are well-marked and lead hikers through wooded areas of oaks, junipers, dogwoods, and ash trees. We noticed many dormant greenbrier, grapevines, poison ivy and Virginia creeper vines in the undergrowth off the trails. There were rocks, boulders, fallen trees, small creeks, and moss-covered stumps all along the way. There was much more “color” on the trails than we expected during this time of year. We spotted lots of green winter grasses, blue & red berries, yellow & white lichens, neon green mosses, and many colorful leaves underfoot. With clear blue skies overhead and warm temps, it was a most enjoyable day.

We didn’t spot any wildlife other than birds on this hike but we did see scat on the trail. There are several species of plants (orchids and lilies) and birds (warblers and hummingbirds) that are very rare and call this canyon home. I would love to return here in the Spring months to see the forest wildflowers, flowering vines and dogwood trees in full bloom. I bet it would be beautiful!

I highly suggest visiting Dogwood Canyon for a day hike. It is a great place for a change of scenery and a nice walk in the woods. Get out of the house, unplug, recharge, connect with nature and get moving! It does a body good.

I’ll see you on the trail!

Icefields Parkway

Alberta, Canada

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My husband and I had the opportunity to travel to Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada this past August and we set aside one full day to drive the Icefields Parkway. What a experience it turned out to be!

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The Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) runs from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper in Jasper National Park. This 144-mile scenic drive is rated the “Top Drive in the World” by Conde’ Nast Traveller and it didn’t take us long into the drive to see why. The double-lane highway winds along the Continental Divide through soaring mountain peaks, turquoise lakes, sweeping valleys, ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires and thick pine forests. We looked forward to a fresh new wonder around every corner. There were  plenty of scenic stops, picnic spots, hiking trails and clean portable toilets along the entire route.  

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We filled up our gas tank in Lake Louise (there is only one service station along the route) and began our journey. Our first stop along the way was the Crowfoot Glacier. We took advantage of the many places where we could pull off the highway to take spectacular photos or find a trailhead to hike. We took our time driving and made many “must-see” stops along the way – with Crowfoot Glacier being our first.

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Just up the highway was Bow Lake, a beautiful mountain lake with turquoise water, framed by dark green evergreens on shore. Next up was Peyto Lake, the perfect Canadian Rockies photo op. We parked here and took an easy 15-minute stroll along a paved trail to the overlook. This viewpoint was the highest elevation on the Icefields Parkway and gave us spectacular views of the glacial valley and gorgeous lake below. It was breathtaking!

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The halfway point between Banff and Jasper was the Saskatchewan Crossing. Not only were the river views here very scenic (including bighorn sheep!), this was the only stop for lunch, gasoline, and cell coverage. There were a couple of small restaurants, restrooms, and a small general store as well. We filled the rental car up, grabbed a quick soup & sandwich lunch, and hit the road again. 

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One of my favorite stops was the Columbia Icefield – the largest glacial icefield south of the Arctic Circle. This whole area made me feel like I was in another world, on another planet. The landscape resembles the moon – or what I picture the moon surface to be. We hiked the area and climbed up on rocky mounds for stunning views of the glittering glaciers all around us. It was a 360-degree view of ancient glaciers, ragged mountain peaks, and rivers of silty, glacier water run-off. There is a huge Glacier Discover Centre here where tourists can actually board an Ice Explorer bus that takes you up on the Athabasca Glacier and lets you walk on the thick ice. We chose to bypass the crowds and the long lines and explore on our own. It was an experience that I will never forget. 

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We were lucky that there were so many other sights and experiences from that day that we will never forget. We stopped and enjoyed the beauty and serenity of Herbert Lake. We admired the scenic views from Big Hill & Big Bend. We hiked up to the loud and powerful Sunwapta Falls.  How could anyone with a sense of adventure not enjoy exploring a place with landmarks named Mosquito Creek, Tangle Falls, Weeping Wall, Mushroom Peak and Goats & Glaciers? What a great day!

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I can easily see why National Geographic referred to this route as “the most beautiful journey on the planet.” It was the most beautiful drive I have ever experienced and every few miles offered a change of scenery. Words really can’t describe it and photos really don’t do it justice. I am just so thankful that David and I had to chance to experience driving the Icefields Parkway once in our lifetime. I hope you get the opportunity as well. 

Safe travels!

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Lake Agnes Teahouse

Alberta, Canada

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Let me start by saying I am not a very athletic person. I am not competitive and never have been. I am an out-of-shape, almost sixty-year-old female with an artificial knee. Keep that in mind as I share this story that happened last month when my husband and I visited Canada and we will call it “Susan vs the Mountain.”

We stayed in a lovely little hotel in Lake Louise and decided for our first full day in Canada to hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse that was located on one of the mountains behind the Fairmont Chateau. This is a very popular hiking trail and we were told to arrive early due to limited parking. So at 7:45 a.m. – carrying our backpacks, water supply, and bear spray – we pulled into the parking lot and headed towards the trail head beside the shore of beautiful Lake Louise.

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Our research told us that this is a half-day hike (1-2 hours one way) with a total distance of  7 km (4.5 miles). Our elevation gain would be 1300 feet (which soon seemed like 1300 miles!) and we would end up at 7005 feet. The trail began along the wooded lake shore and soon started leading upwards. When I say “leading upwards”…..I mean leading UPWARDS  (body bent in half, head forward, toes digging in) upwards. The trail zigzagged back and forth through the trees at a pretty steady incline. The trail was well-maintained, though we had to be mindful of loose rocks, gravel, and tree roots. Immediately the altitude became an enemy. Every few yards I had to grab a tree or sit on a rock and wheeze a little to catch my breath. Whose idea was this?

During these multiple moments of trying to breathe, I would look up and be amazed at the gorgeous scenery around me. We were in dense evergreen forests with colorful wildflowers,  scrambling chipmunks, and silence…..except for my wheezing. When the trail would switch back in one direction, we had gorgeous views of the turquoise Lake Louise which was now below us as we rose higher on the mountain.

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About halfway up this trail with a racing heart rate, burning thighs, and parched throat – my attitude changed. I went from “oh, how lovely” to “who in their right mind would build a  @%$#&*!  teahouse on the side of a mountain?” I was sweating, my face was bright red, and a cup of hot tea was not what I wanted at this particular moment in time. Tequila? Maybe. Chamomile or Earl Grey? Nope.

Being the hard-headed ole broad that I am, I pushed on and finished the hike in a little under two hours. The trail had been long and difficult but I was determined not to give up – I had come too far to quit at this point. We soon heard voices through the trees and knew that we were close to the end of our hike. A beautiful waterfall appeared around the final bend and the views below us were amazing. We stopped and caught our breath only to discover that the only way up to the teahouse from this point was a wooden staircase with what seemed like a thousand steps. Really? We hadn’t suffered enough? Once again I thought – who in their right minds would do this?

 

After a little more (okay, a lot more) griping, pulling and pushing – we made it up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse.  I was not prepared for what awaited us. The scene was breathtaking! The teahouse is a very rustic, two-story log structure situated on a scenic mountain lake and is surrounded on three sides by snowy mountain peaks. There were dozens of people here ahead of us (these crazy people hiked up here too?) and everyone was chilling and enjoying the place. We found a table on the teahouse porch, dropped our backpacks, and ordered lunch.

The Lake Agnes Teahouse was originally built as a shelter for hikers and began serving tea in 1905.  There is no running water or electricity so the menu is quite simple. All supplies and foods are transported manually by workers, by horseback, or flown in by helicopter. Staff members bring supplies up and carry garbage back down. They offered loose leaf teas, hot chocolate, soups, scones, sandwiches, salads and chips – nothing fancy and cash only.  We sat outside with views of the Canadian Rockies and Lake Agnes and enjoyed a pot of tea, scones, and sandwiches and it was all delicious. This was another of my life’s “pinch me moments.” I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment and contentment as I did at that very moment.

After enjoying our refreshments, a brief rest period and the views here for an hour or so, we decided to head back down the trail. Getting up there was the hard part but was well worth it. Walking down was going to be a breeze. Right?

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The first part of going back down was very pleasant and the trail was so much easier. I was riding on an emotional high – I had completed the uphill hike and had my bragging rights for one of the most difficult things I had ever attempted. All was well until I took a step and my left hiking boot felt “odd” and heavy. Lo and behold, the front sole was detaching from my boot! I found the nearest boulder to plop down on to examine the damage while David searched our backpacks for a cord or something to tie my boot back together. He found his earbuds and did a quite nice job of wrapping them around my foot and held the boot sole on for the remainder of my hike. David’s Boy Scout training had paid off. All was well.

“All was well” until five minutes later when my other boot came apart. Yep! The thick rubber sole almost completely detached from the bottom of the right boot as well. It felt like I was walking downhill on a rocky trail in swim fins! We didn’t have any more earbuds or anything string-like. The best thing to do at this point was go ahead and pull this sole completely off and hobble on down the trail on the thin leather bottom. That is exactly what I did. It felt like I was walking down a steep mountain while wearing one cheap house slipper and one utility work boot, with one leg much shorter than the other.

This was one of those days that covered a full range of emotions. We laughed, I cried, we worried, and then we laughed some more. I may have even cursed a little. When all was said and done, this day will forever be etched in my brain as one of the most memorable days of my life. I was so proud of myself for not giving up and pushing myself to my physical limits. I was so proud of my husband who deserves a medal for his patience and kindness. I felt so privileged to be able to see “in person” the breathtaking sights we saw that day – scenes that cannot be replicated by videos or photos. After all was said and done…it was simply The Best.

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I hope you get the opportunity to visit Lake Louise and take this hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. Words cannot describe it and photos cannot come close to capturing the real-life experience. I do have a few words of advice for you though: travel with a great partner, take drinking water & bear spray, wear new hiking boots (with stitched – not glued – bottoms), be in decent physical shape, and ALWAYS take duct tape with you wherever you go!

One final chapter to our adventure – David left me at the trail head when we finally finished the hike and volunteered to go get our car. He did not wish for me to continue walking unevenly and risk another knee injury, which I very much appreciated. So I sat….for a long time. After walking back to find our car and trying to get back to me through heavy traffic, David made an illegal u-turn to shorten his driving time back to the start of the trail to pick me up. Unfortunately for him, he turned right in front of a Canadian policeman. A $155 traffic ticket became the “cherry on top” of this day.

I always did love a bad boy.