westward ho...

when i last left off, i was seeking out swimming holes in the southeast. that trip was actually a slow descent toward Cullowhee, NC where j. and i had enrolled in a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification course with Landmark Learning.

the course lasted 9 days. the theory behind WFR certification is that it prepares you for medical emergencies in the back-country when an ambulance/hospital/MD is an hour or more away. the skills are helpful, but not intended for, medical emergencies in urban environments. it was super interesting. despite being a very common certification and low-level (as far as complexity) i found it to be very in-depth. they really taught us some useful stuff.

we lived in the van at the Landmark Learning facility out in the NC mountains. the weather was fine; very cool and often rainy. as students we had 24-hour access to a student lounge which had wifi, a kitchen, bathrooms, and hot showers. if you're interested in Wilderness Medicine (WFR, Wilderness EMT, Wilderness Life Guard, etc) I definitely recommend checking out Landmark Learning. the teachers are top-notch. they really have their shit together (and at a much more affordable tuiton cost than other wilderness medicine schools).

as soon as we passed the final exam and packed up, we drove north to Knoxville. it was miserably hot and swampy there. we connected with the interstate and began the long westward trek for Arizona. the pictures ABOVE and BELOW this paragraph are of rest-stops we stayed at. the rest-stops along I-70 in the midwest can be really charming. look at that little pavilion we fixed our dinner at. it had a covered eating area, a charcoal stove, and a water pump. there was a dump station around the corner, and free WIFI in the air. and all for free. thats a better deal than many state/national campgrounds.

ive lost track of the whole sequence of days. but we inched through the midwest. we slept at many rest-stops, and some walmarts; we went to the movies. we stopped at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Kansas, and also did some birdwatching. then we hit Colorado and the Rockies. neither of us had seen the Rockies before. what can i say? theyre big and beautiful, very inspiring. unfortunately the towns along I-70 were vomitously touristy, and geared to the winter sports crowd (which i dont relate to).

we stopped off at Colorado National Monument for some camping/hiking. CNM is on the western edge of Colorado, not far from the Utah border. the picture ABOVE is me hiking in one of the canyons. it was very hot. and very beautiful. there were many lizards, and we saw a snake, too.

because of the heat, we set up my tent and slept in it rather than the van. it was a relief not to be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder on the van mattress. and i enjoyed seeing the stars through the screen-top of the tent. the picture ABOVE is a long exposure of the Grand Junction cityscape as seen from our campsite.

thanks for reading!


a pool, a dome, and a bug...

we got out of Blacksburg and renewed the search for swimming holes. this led us to a little nature area in southwestern Virginia called Dismal Falls. it had a waterfall/swimming hole (pictured ABOVE) and some hiking and a campground (below). there were always folks at the swimming hole. dogs, too. it seemed like a popular place.

the campground was about a mile walk from the swimming hole and at the end of a gravel road. there were 2 people camped when we arrived but they cleared out and for the next 2 nights we were alone. it was free, too; a sign said it would cost $5/night but nobody came to collect it and there wasn't an iron ranger to leave cash in. there was a cool water pump at the campground i forgot to photograph. it had the traditional pump fixture but then sticking out of it was a water fountain.

we got out of there and spent a night at a walmart in some random commercial plaza. we ran into some other van-dwellers who were going in the opposite direction, toward Rhode Island. then we crossed into North Carolina and drove into (or rather up into) Stone Mountain State Park. the park was substantial. it had dozens of electric and non-electric sites and it was all beautifully groomed. there were hot showers too (free, too - no coin-op crap). we spent 2 nights on Stone Mountain and went on 2 of the hikes available in the 19 miles of trails.

pictured ABOVE is Stone Mountain's famous granite (?) dome. this giant bald thing is really awe-inspiring to see. its kind of freakish. you can see all the streaks and pits from rain run-off. im not sure what created it and why more mountains dont look this way.

on the hike we encountered this bug. he had eyes on back of his head. we urged him to move off the stairwell, fearing he'd get crushed. when prodded with a pine needle he retracted all his legs and played dead, or something like it. it was neat. we moved him into the leaves. who knows, maybe he wanted to get stepped on...

this picture ABOVE is of the Stone Mountain waterfall. there were numerous scary-looking signs warning people not to swim on or walk anywhere near it. you can see why.

thanks for reading.