November in Red River Gorge, KY

Another short weekend trip into the misty woods of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. This time, the trees were starting to look bare, without the foliage they had before, and in the morning, it was much colder, although it was still warm with sunshine in the afternoon. In the cold air, the sunrises and sunsets appeared even more striking. Back in Indiana, the leaves had started dropping, too, and looked mostly completely bare.

Woods in November, Indiana
Woods in November, Indiana

Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and the Keys

Among the most beautiful beaches in the world, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and parts of the Keys offer stunning white sand beaches and waters that offer a sense of paradise. The beaches of Ft. Lauderdale On-The-Sea’s were very pleasant and relaxing. During the brief stay there, I also walked through Miami’s most famous Espanola Way and Lincoln shopping center, which is lined with all the most expensive brands, and spent a short but beautiful day in Islamorada, which one can see, is truly one of the most beautiful places to go on seaside vacation, although there are many in the world, of course.

While I was there, I visited the Islander Girl resort in Islamorada, an island strip between the keys. The snorkeling tour took about two hours, and offered plenty of coral reefs and colorful fish to look at underwater.

If you like art, do not hesitate to visit any of Miami’s art galleries, particularly the exhibitions at Superblue Miami, which have rooms of art combined with technology, making the experience change as you walk through them.

As always, all opinions are my own, and as usual, time for a couple photographs of Islamorada, and one of an exhibition.

Below, the Islander Girl resort, with beautiful, serene vistas in Islamorada, in the Keys.

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An exhibition at Superblue Miami featuring colorful umbrellas that seem to breathe, opening and closing, and changing colors from light to dark.

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North American Castles

Recently, I discovered there are quite a few stone castles in the United States that look authentic, very like those one would find in Europe. Given the pandemic of coronavirus, the idea of traveling overseas for leisure or tourism has changed drastically, and I wanted to see if one could have a similar experience within the United States itself.

It turns out, one could! There are many castles, in fact, across the United States, some of which are museums, wineries, or bed and breakfasts, or even residences or Airbnbs, however, they are there, and beautiful a sight to behold and look at during a visit.

 

Below are two of the recent castles I have found, including a third, which is a seminary, in Indiana. There is also a castle in Ohio that is close to southern Indiana!

Metamora Castle, Indiana

I do not recommend going to this castle! It is hard to access, the path rutted out, and the gate typically closed. However, while I was there it was open, so I took a photograph and left. The atmosphere was a little haunted, and I have read elsewhere accounts of supernatural activities rumored on that site.

The Bed and Breakfast, Clayshire Castle, in Indiana

Some say this castle, an estate designed by Lord Doug and Lady Mary Jo Smock, is not designed to detail, due to the windows on the ground floor, for example, however, I enjoyed visiting this place and found the grounds fun (there is a giant chess set, like in Alice in Wonderland, perhaps), and have heard there are gatherings here where you can dress in hand sewn medieval garb by the owners, themselves, and there is an annual festival in September where Shakespeare plays are held and jousting, feasts, and archery is displayed on the lawns. A good place to get married or hold a party of friends, perhaps, so I have heard.

Clayshire Castle Bed and Breakfast
Clayshire Castle Bed and Breakfast
A replica of "Godspeed," a painting by Edmund Leighton, about a knight who goes to war and has to leave behind his beloved.
A replica of “Godspeed,” a painting by Edmund Leighton, about a knight who goes to war and has to leave behind his beloved.

 

The Chateau Larouche, or the Loveland Castle, in Cincinnati, Ohio

The castle was built by hand, stone by stone, lugged up ton by ton from the Ohio river, by Harry (later Sir Harry) Delos Andrews, who built it over the course of his life in the 20th century, with the help of the Boy Scouts the Knights of the Golden Trail, his troop. Together they built it and guard it and to this day, it is willed to the knights. It costs $5 to visit and is a museum with grounds that are also beautiful and accessed.

The Loveland Castle, or Chateau Laroche
The Loveland Castle, or Chateau Laroche

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The Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary

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This is a really peaceful place. It is a seminary now, however, until as recently as 2008 nuns lived and prayed in the castle-like structure, designed like a real 15th century medieval castle, and one can still feel the weight, and blessing, of their prayers on the grounds. A sacred space, and healing to those who seek wisdom no matter what your religion.

The Historical District of Louisville, Kentucky

The architecture in the historical neighborhood in Kentucky, which sits right next to its Central Park, is a destination that is worth a visit to see alone, even if you do not go anywhere else in the city.

Below, some of the houses that you will find if you walk, too, into the twilight of the 18th century….and find some beautiful Victorian-era homes.

The canal also lends some views of the city skyline, and if you go to the Falls of The Ohio State Park, you can see the river, with the city behind it, and enjoy the peace there.

 

An old home in the historical district in Louisville, KY.
An old home in the historical district in Louisville, KY.
A view along one of the alleys in the historical district, in Louisville, KY.
A view along one of the alleys in the historical district, in Louisville, KY.
A boulevard through a little alleyway in the historical district in Louisville, KY.
A boulevard through a little alleyway in the historical district in Louisville, KY.
A view of the bridge from Jeffersonville, IN.
A view of the bridge from Jeffersonville, IN.
An old home with two redwood, or sycamore, possibly, trees on either side!

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park – Gatlinburg, TN

The blue ridge mountains – a sight one should see once in their lives.

There is something about the rolling Appalachain mountain range, the blue ridges, stretching into the distance for miles and miles on end, that is quite moving.

Desolate, beautiful, timeless, yet fragile – these mountain ranges were once civilized, in places, and still, less than a century later, they are forested again in regions where farmhouses once stood.

That is not exactly what you would think looking at out at the ridges now, for here, it looks as though time stood still and the trees forgot their own names, or, we forgot the meaning of natural beauty.

As for trails, there is a beautiful short trail nearby the Sugarlands Visitor Center that is paved, only 0.5, however it is very beautiful, and not to be missed if you have the time. Laurel Springs, a short 2.0 mile round trip hike from the road, is also very popular and worthwhile, because of the beautiful falls at the end of the journey before the turn-around. Anywhere is worth going, as long as you remember to return on the journey home.

Don’t forget to check out the Appalachian Trail. It has beautiful vistas in rugged places, although the scenic drives to Cades Cove or up to see the mountains from Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome are worth it, too. Of course, a drive through Gatlinburg and over to the Fontana Dam will yield some pretty, if packed, sights, if you go! The mosquitos and bugs are out in the summer months, so be prepared.

Time for the photos! As always, all opinions are my own.

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Clingman’s Dome
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A spider web hangs through the sunlit trees on a quiet walkway.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I really loved being here — the turquoise waters off the coast are one of my favorite things about this area. If you want more of a party vibe, go to Miami Beach, but the quiet and comfortable area in Fort-Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is so relaxing and beautiful.

On Las Olas Boulevard, there are a lot of art galleries and shops, and eateries, nearby the NSU Art Museum. ABRA Gallery has paintings by Star Mortezavi and Hessam Abrishami, and several other Iranian painters.

A couple fun things to do while sightseeing was seeing the Anna Sui exhibition at the NSU Museum, which also had some paintings and photographs worth seeing in their galleries, and the Bonnet House, which features paintings and art collections by the Bartlett’s in the studio and house.

The blue waters off the coast of Miami Beach were stunning, as was the sparkling white sand, although honestly, it was more beautiful in the quiet areas of the beach.

Painting by Star Mortezavi in the ABRA GalleryIMG_3419

Paintings from New River Fine Art Gallery, down the boulevardIMG_3424

The beach at Fort LauderdaleIMG_3441

Near the pier in Fort LauderdaleIMG_3464

Morning sunrise at the beach in Fort Lauderdale by the seaIMG_3498

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Anna Sui’s exhibition at the NSU Art Museum, featuring samples from collections over the decadesIMG_3526

The Bonnet House Museum and GardensIMG_3653 (1)

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The Pier IMG_3739

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Denver’s Most Beautiful Places

While I cannot tell you much about Denver city, here are the best natural attractions in the Denver area.

Natural Beauty | Scenic Views | Forests, Lakes, and Wildlife

  1. The Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park

The Road to Estes

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By far the most beautiful, Estes Park is the top natural attraction in the Denver area, reachable by car in roughly an hour and a half. It’s only 65 miles from Denver city, however, the traffic gets slower in some areas due to the winding mountain roads. The drive from Lyons to Estes Park is a part of the beauty, and an attraction itself. If you go in winter, you may find icy dusted pine trees, making the stretch (roughly 17 miles) a magical winter wonderland stretching for miles and miles of curving turns amidst craggy rocks, cliffs, and scenic vistas. Truly beautiful. The Rocky Mountains are not to be missed.

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Walking on the trail to Emerald Lake, on the frozen Nymph Lake icy snow.

 

The Dream Lake Trail | A trail connecting three lakes in the Rocky Mountains

A highlight hike in any weather, this trail is the Rocky Mountain experience all in one. It takes you up into the Rocky Mountains, and is off a road that is very accessible from the main road, though sometimes closed in icy conditions. A moderate hike, it is easy in the first stretch to Dream Lake, and then more sloping and a little harder as it winds up to Nymph Lake and then Emerald Lake. It’s 3.6 miles round trip, out and back. It is so beautiful and scenic, however, so don’t miss it — you will appreciate and admire the views the higher you go, as it gets more and more scenic with vast reaches of alpine forest, views of mountain peaks, and (while I was there, in winter, at least) icy, snow covered lakes in swirling clouds of fog in some areas.

Amongst the Rockies, on the road to the Trailhead ranger exit.

2. Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs

There is another Garden of the Gods in Illinois, however, this one could be the original, and one can see why. With large red rocks in interesting formations stretching up towards the sky, these rocks truly are something to behold, and majestic. The path is easy to access, with parking at the main trailhead a little difficult in the warmer months. In the winter, I did not have a problem finding a spot as soon as I arrived. The wide, paved path winds through the park, which is deceptively small given the grandiosity of its title. The total round trip mileage varies as it loops in a bit of a figure eight, however, I walked around and it took no more than thirty minutes to see everything, although there are places to linger.

Garden of the Gods on a pullout on the scenic byway
Garden of the Gods on a pullout on the scenic byway

3. Canyon Gorge – Cañon City

This is worth a mention, because it is simply a sheer drop into a canyon, with a long suspension bridge running over it. It is not hard to access the bridge, but it does cost $25. I was viewing a Colorado Springs travel guide which had an amazing photograph of it at sunrise, but it didn’t mention any fees. Since I wasn’t in the mood to pay to walk over the bridge, I didn’t go, however the view was nice and there is a park nearby with more hiking trails overlooking scenic vistas.

4. El Dorado State Park – Denver area

This was a highlight. By far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, El Dorado State Park takes no more than twenty or thirty minutes to reach from the heart of Denver city, and it feels like stepping into a dream world. Craggy cliffs rising high in the midst of fog, scraggly pine trees bent from the wind, and right next to it, a small neighborhood with houses, and interesting architecture, built right up into the mountain itself. From far, it looks like a Japanese bonsai painting, and close up, it feels like something other than Denver, completely.
A must see. It costs $40 to enter the park, and since I was not climbing, I simply stopped to admire the cliffs rising from the mists for a while, before I drove on.

5. Marshall Mesa – Denver area

The Marshall Mesa looks towards the mountain range, so the hike has a nice view of the mountains on the return journey. It’s flat, mostly, and short, only about 0.7 miles one way, though it can be combined with two other trails for a 3.0 mile ish loop. Bring snowshoes or spikes in the winter, because while I was there in the snow, the icy parts were a little treacherous. However, given that the snowfall was sudden and historic in March 2021, it may not snow so much otherwise for the hiker. It is easy to get to the Flatirons (off the same highway, I-70, about fifteen to twenty minutes away), so after you go there, try the Flatirons.

6. Chataqua Park, The Flatirons – Boulder

The reason to go is because the Flatirons are simply stunning. The views are so worthy from any location of the trail, although the feeling of pride after hiking is more after reaching the summit of the Flatirons trail (1/2 Flatiron trail), or at least for me it is, simply because it is strenuous to go up the switchbacks. Drink plenty of water, and eat well, for the altitude will make everything a little more difficult.

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The Flatirons in winter snow

The Chataqua to Bluebell Mesa trail is a nice 1.2 mile loop, with beautiful views and one part of it stopping in the midst of an alpine forest. It is a wonderful trail because it runs to the mountains and back to the trailhead by the parking lot.

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The trails connect here to the Bluebell Mesa trail – in the pine grove.
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The Boulder Flatirons in snow

A highlight in winter is the sledding in snow down the gentle slopes nearer to the trailhead parking lot! Bring your own sled, and go for a nice, easy, long run down.

7. Wonderland Lake – Boulder

What colors this place has is enough to go see it, and do the short 0.4 hike across the side of the lake back to the parking lot, although you can go further. There are yellow reeds, quaint cottages, foothills with scrubby pines, and the lake itself with ducks floating on it at times. Very peaceful.

8. Red Rocks Ampitheather – Denver area

It is a cool place to go even without a concert to see, and I recommend a trip to the museum nearby where the musicians have their artwork displayed from previous shows. A must-see!*

*The Colorado Music Hall of Fame, a trading post with some food and snacks and t-shirts, apparel to buy after looking around at the music showcased, displayed.

As usual, all opinions are my own.

Where to stay: honestly, most of the downtown hotels looked amazing and interesting, rising high into the sky – try the Hyatt, with its Peaks Lounge with views of the city from the 27th floor, or the Art Hotel, which has a restaurant, “Fire,” which is situated in the midst of a gallery like setting with paintings and sculpture on white walls and views of the city from the 4th floor, or try a quaint hotel tucked away in Boulder (which is what I would have done if I’d known about some nice ones, as Boulder is a very walkable, pleasant city). Lucky’s Market in Boulder and the walkable promenade on Pearl Street are two of my favorite highlights from the city, where you will find organic and tasty food at a local market store, and plenty of shopping and art, books, and gifts, not to mention restaurant’s like Illegal Pete’s (which offers burritos and rice and bean bowls) in a very magical-esque setting. Even driving around Boulder into the foothills, or up to Flagstaff Mesa to see the view, is entertaining!

You might see this sight in Denver, as soon as you arrive, for this train station is the hub of the downtown metro area, as well:

The train, at Union Station, connects the airport to Denver’s central station and downtown areas, and also has other trains branching around the city.

 

A few more photos:

 

Four Seasons of Beautiful Places in The United States

Four Seasons in the United States

While travel is banned to most countries outside of the United States in 2020 (still is as I write this — it’s January 2021), it’s still possible to explore the diverse and beautiful lands of the North American Continent. There are 61 National Parks, many more state parks, and other beautiful scenic spots in the vast, sweeping United States, and with no good reason not to see them this year — so here’s what I consider some of the most beautiful places in the United States (and since I’ve been to all of them in this post, this is my personal opinion only, etc).

January

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA

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The colorful boats and ferries make Fisherhman’s Wharf a scenic place to visit, although the normally quaint, quirky, and fun eclectic mix of shops and art galleries were shut down (and closing, sadly, too), when I was there in January of 2021. Let’s hope for the best of luck with them during this difficult time of social upheaval.

Bodega Bay, CA

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Where dreams are made, and simply, the stuff dreams are made of, and so on.

What dreamlike quality Bodega Bay does not possess is shared by the surrounding landscapes of the rolling hills and giant rocky boulders, as if you, too, have walked into the Land of the Giants or some Tolkein-esque fantasy around the Shire.

Lake Tahoe, NV

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Lake Tahoe, serene, surrounded by alpine mountains, is so reminiscent of walking into the Alps around a stretch of its perfect blue watery surface. It just doesn’t feel like the United States in Lake Tahoe, but that’s probably because the alpine forests are so vast and sweeping, and the wooden log cabins of the resorts nearby were crafted to be so idyllic, that it just feels like “some other place,” entirely — although the small town atmosphere of Lake Tahoe near Kings Beach has a distinctly Twin Peaks vibe, which is fun, though very nostalgic. That makes Lake Tahoe a place to stay if you want to rent a cabin here, because I discovered most of the shoreline was filled with vacation rentals — far more than I previously envisioned.

Death Valley National Park, CADeathValleyNP

Death Valley is vast, and as changing as the long horizons of the hours that pass by on the drive. “Scenic” though it can be described, it just doesn’t do it justice. A cool, long drive is the best way I can describe Death Valley, because it is actually meant to be driven through. There are several spots to hike, though, so if you feel like walking around, there’s the guided hike to the Red Cathedral, an easy 0.8 to 3.3 mile hike (one way) through the canyon wash, and the Badwater Basin Salt Flats, where most people walk down and back through the wide desert filled with different crusted salt formations, although most of the scenery is best viewed from the road or a pull-out.

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Badwater Basin Salt Flats

Great Basin National Park, NV

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It really is like time stopped in the late 90s in Great Basin National Park, or perhaps, time never moved on in this area. Though it was snowed out while I was there, Great Basin National Park is still one of the most majestic and scenic places of the United States, with mountains that seem to drift through ages.

Bonneville Salt Flats, UT

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The Bonneville Salt Flats.

The Bonneville Salt Flats share something charismatic and dramatic, and there’s an endless charm about these lands.

Salt Lake City, an hour and a half or so drive nearby, has major hiking and rock-climbing havens in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (not to mention some classic skiing areas, from the looks of it) all about a 10 minutes drive from the heart of the city itself. With high rise buildings, a metro train, plenty of natural food shops, and a vast lake nearby — Salt Lake City has it all. It seems like a European town, or a smaller New York (Manhattan), set in the dusty desert, with outdoor adventures for every sport, and really tall climbing gyms — so if that’s what you’re into, it has everything to offer.

City of Rocks, National Reserve, ID

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The City of Rocks in Idaho was nothing short of interesting, and its features make it something dreamlike. What an incredibly fun place.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, ID

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Craters of the Moon is a lava rock filled national park, actually, in Idaho — and while I didn’t go into the park area itself, I spent an afternoon nearby it surrounded by the lava rocks and these beautiful mountain ranges, so I consider it “close enough.” It was too snowy to continue on into the park itself when I went — however, the alpine landscapes, and the scenery of snow capped peaks in winter was very pretty.

Sun Valley, Idaho

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The mountain ranges in Sun Valley, Idaho, make for excellent skiing, and some argue the best in the United States. While I do not ski much, I would highly recommend going there, if you don’t know about skiing in Sun Valley. It is one of the prettiest places to ski, with long runs and alpine forests.

The Badlands National Park, SD

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The Badlands, South Dakota.

The Badlands are not a place for the delicate — the wind gusts are quite strong, and the landscapes a place for those who appreciate desolation. Leave the Badlands alone, and they’ll leave you alone, is the sentiment here, for those who appreciate the concept that if one stares into the vast midst of a canyon too long, you will get lost in it as it stares into you. Big and mean and bad, vast and reminiscent of Needles National Park in Utah (Canyonlands), this is a place to lose a staring contest, beautiful though it may be said to be, as the poet once said, though one cannot accurately describe it as simply that — nor in the end, can words encapsulate everything about a place, feeling, or emotion, as words simply  put a grid on things ever-transient and shifting, far greater than the words themselves.

Garden Of The Gods — Shawnee National Forest, IL

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Stunning, and observational, these rocks are there for people to observe the vast expanse of forests that reach for miles upon miles into the distance, like waves lapping the shoreline.

To stand upon these is to reach into the mighty heavens, for aptly named, there is something palpable that lingers in these Shawnee woods, as if their ancestors, the Native American Indians, still walk upon the rocks in a land without settlements. Time reaches way back, deep, and seems to slow to a pace where the brave once stood, and coyotes bayed in the night, and perhaps once, wolves stood upon these ledges and upon a full moon, howled their lonely cries.

A short walk leads around these rocks, easily accessible for anyone, as it is only a quarter of a mile, although this area, itself, feels much more expansive, than that.

To be continued! As usual, all opinions are my own.