You can see by the map on the top of my blog that Tom and I have been a lot of places in 2015. Today, the last day of the year, I wanted to highlight our five favorite places from the last year.
Our top favorite place in 2015 was Scotty’s Castle and Death Valley National Park in California. This was our first volunteer position in the National Parks and it will always hold a special place in our hearts. We expected to find sunshine, heat, and lots of nothingness in Death Valley. Instead, at Scotty’s Castle, we found a beautiful home with technology that was ahead of its time, set in a lush, green location with abundant water. There was also plenty of sunshine (a definite plus) and the wildflower display was unexpected and abundant. We also loved Death Valley – miles of mountains and canyons – ready to be explored. Because we were so remote we built special relationships with the people we worked with. We especially loved our boss, Abby, who treated everyone with the same quiet consideration and expected the same level of professionalism out of everyone: volunteer, seasonal, or full-time ranger. We loved the tours and the tourists on the days we worked and we loved the hiking and exploring we got to do on the days we were off.
Our second favorite place was Point Park on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. Whether we were socked in a cloud with no visibility or could see for 110 miles, Point Park was a delight every day we were there. Tom and I loved to walk the mile trail all around the park several times a day because the view was constantly changing. Learning more about the Civil War stretched and challenged my mind. Hiking the 30 miles of trails on the mountain stretched my legs! We also enjoyed the people we worked with and answering the questions of visitors. Chattanooga was an unexpected surprise. We loved the city: the museums, the restaurants, all the hiking, the history, the Tennessee River, the fun stores. Exploring in and around Chattanooga was a constant delight.
Our third favorite place was the San Rafael Swell in Utah. This is not a national park – although it should be – but just a scenic semi-protected area. But the scenery was spectacular and different around every corner. We saw petroglyphs and ancient native-american ruins. We hiked through canyons and along rivers. We explored hoodoos and slot canyons. Hiking through Little Horse Canyon was Tom’s favorite hike of the year. San Rafael Swell had the “Grand Canyon of Utah,” Goblin Valley State Park, Dinosaur bones, and views where you could imagine cowboys or bad guys riding off into the sunset. It was very accessible with several little towns that are trying to survive with the help of the tourists that visit the swell.
Our fourth favorite place was Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire. We stayed at a wonderful campsite next to a lake and were able to hop on the bike trail from the campsite. The hiking was spectacular. Of course, there are only two directions to hike at Franconia Notch – up and down – so my knees protested. But the views along the way and from the top were worth it and my trekking poles helped considerably. We explored the park with our good friends, the Shaw family, and that helped us enjoy it even more. Tom had a hiking partner who could keep up with him (Energizer Battery Sandy) and I was able to take the easier routes with Eric, Kendra, and Danae. We loved the Flume, the gorgeous old woods, and the views from the tops of the mountain through the notch. We even enjoyed the place that used to have “The Old Man on the Mountain.”
Our fifth, and final, favorite place was Ohio, specifically River Trail Crossing Campground in Butler and Cross Creek Campground in Delaware. These probably wouldn’t make the list on their own, but they are close to our favorite people. As long as our favorite people are in Ohio, this will always be on our list of favorite places. It doesn’t matter where we are in Ohio: when we are with our favorite people we have a great time. We love River Trail Crossing because we could ride the tandem to see my mom and dad and we did that several times a week in August. We love Cross Creek because of the Christmas light display and the convenience to John and Jackie and Mom and Dad. Less than an hour gets us to either house. Whether we are hiking in Hocking Hills, going to a Cleveland Indians game, commiserating over the Browns, cutting up a tree, or getting together for a Christmas celebration, there is a special connection in these places because of the people we love.
Those are our five favorite places for 2015. A new map starts tomorrow and who knows where we will end up or what will be on our list next year! We will continue to travel and share our horizons with you.