Category Archives: United States

Sunset Skygazing

This is one of the biggest things I missed while living in Ecuador.

an arizona sunset


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Filed under Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States

Conquering Camelback Mountain in Arizona

View from the top of Camelback Mountain

My twin sister decided to introduce me to Camelback, which is a famous mountain – or hill, depending on the mountains you’ve grown up with wherever you live – in Arizona because it resembles a camel lying down in the desert surroundings. It has also gained a reputation for being a rather difficult hike/trek with many people getting hurt and air-lifted off the mountain. As we drove to the trail, my sister told me a story of how ambulances were taking someone away the very first time she was going to hike it. YiKES!

Camelback is so popular that the parking lot fills up rather quickly, leaving many people to park farther down in the neighborhood streets. When we arrived the parking lot was packed and a line of cars were waiting for people to leave for their chance to get a spot. My sister and I opted for the other parking areas. We started driving and saw groups of people running and walking to the trailhead from the parking area, which also turned out to be filled. We had no choice but to park in the rocky landscape with other cars and make the walk to the trailhead. I jokingly told my sister that this could be our warm-up.

I learned from my sister that the hike can take up to 3-hours, so we took a deep breath and braved the porta-potties before starting the hike. According to my sister, there are two sides to climb to the top of Camelback. One is an easy hike with a flat path that only gets a bit dangerous – picture a high-wire, you walk on the edge of the mountain – before you reach the top. The other, which we took, is steep the entire way up and includes lots of boulder hopping.

Hiking Camelback Mountain!

After you climb up the stairs, you get a break on a flat path that winds along a fence that keeps you from falling off the edge before getting to the first of two real steep ascents. Both of these climbs have a steel handle-bar to assist you up the rock’s surface. It is amazing to see how people get up these areas of the hike. Some opt for no handle-bar and literally crawl up while others cling to the fence or bar, and others who are descending are walking backwards holding onto the bar. After each ascent, most hikers take a break to catch their breath and watch the other hikers before getting to the boulder areas.

This was probably my favorite part. You could either go up the boulder crevice or climb the surface of the red rocks next to it. The surface was so flat and had this texture that you could literally stand up straight and walk up it. It looked like you were walking side-ways up this rock, it was brilliant. I was so nervous though that for the first bit of it I clung with my face smashed up to the surface because I didn’t want to fall. With the assurance of my twin sister, I finally stood up half-way up and walked up, feeling the burning in my calves the entire way.

Helicopter hovering while searching for an injured hiker

We venture onward and saw a helicopter making multiple rounds of the mountain, at points hovering. The pilot used its speaker to call out to hikers to assist them in their rescue attempt. “If you are by the injured hiker, please wave your arms.” All the hikers began pointing in the direction of the hiker that they passed during their descent. My sister and I pointed upward after noticing the people helping. We eventually saw the injured girl being nursed by her hiking partners. It appeared as if it was her ankle, which was no surprise because climbing the boulders – and at times jumping from one to the next – could easily lead to your foot slipping.

Christmas tree on top of Camelback Mountain

My sister told me we were near the top and our speed grew faster during the last portion. Our legs were burning and our breaths were quick, but we reached the apex where a crowd of hikers were resting and eating while enjoying the view. The Christmas tree was still up there along with a few decorated bushes. One group decided to take their Christmas picture for next year. We only had a few minutes of rest before we started our descent. On the way down we saw a girl who had just sprained her ankle a minute prior. She was in tears and being comforted by her friends. We continued on and made sure our feet were firmly planted before pressing on to the next boulder and the next…and the next. It was much faster on the way down and when we reached the wooden stairs, smiles replaced the open mouths that gasped for air the entire way up and down.

Hikers resting and eating snacks on top of Camelback Mountain

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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Tips, Travel, United States

Arizona: Tallest Christmas Tree in the Nation

Tonight my parents and I walked around the outlets in Anthem. We normally don’t frequent the shopping center but they had something special to offer: the tallest Christmas tree in the nation. I find it odd that a city in Arizona would be able to get the tallest tree, but hey, at least we have the ability to admire and appreciate the tree since we are not stuck in feet of snow or have to bear freezing temperatures and wind chill to enjoy it. Let me tell you, this tree was massive.  I was unable to fit the tree in its entirety into any picture (I can’t wait to get my panoramic camera under the tree – yes, I know that I’m getting one, I had to pick it out). It towers over the tops of the shops and can be seen from miles down the highway that the outlets are located beside. Underneath its limbs are giant presents and toys for kids and families to stand in front of for picture-taking opportunities.

It is good to see it in the daylight, not only for the picture-taking, but because you get the chance to see the huge ornaments that decorate the tree. At night when it is lit up, all you can see are the twinkling Christmas lights, which are still a beautiful sight to behold and definitely get you in the holiday spirit.

According to the details:

  • The 110-foot tall tree came from Northern California.
  • A huge crane was used to hoist the tree into place.
  • In total, 120 strings of lights and 3,000 ornaments decorate the massive tree.

nation's tallest christmas tree

standing under the tree with the presents








reflection in the giant ornament

nation's tallest christmas tree lit up







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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Travel, United States

Printed By-Line: digital and print

topic of my News21 article

This is completely un-related to travel, however I could not resist the urge to spread the good news. My in-depth article that I wrote for News21 on employer sanctions was published in PRiNT and ONLiNE. This is the biggest accomplishment – to date – in my journalism career.

Background: I was chosen as one of 10 fellows for the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative, which includes 12 universities across the nation and is headquartered at my Alma Mater: Arizona State University. I was one of two undergrads accepted into the program and was the FiRST to get my story published out of the ASU group. The summer fellowship focuses on innovative story-telling. This year there was much more emphasis on impact and newsworthiness.

The nation’s leading journalism schools come together in this unique program to experiment with new forms of in-depth and investigative reporting.

Students travel the country to report on critical issues facing our changing nation and then find innovative ways to tell those stories.

my story leading the AzCentral home-page

Each school spent all their time and attention investigating and reporting on a specific subject area they felt they could write about accurately.

In Arizona, our group focused on immigration issues. Being so close to the border we felt this was appropriate.

My project:  It dealt with employer sanctions, which are laws that states pass in order to combat the hiring of undocumented immigrants in the workplace.

To narrow the focus and make a better comparison, I looked at two states: Arizona and South Carolina.

Both had incredibly similar employer sanctions laws. However, only one has been able to successfully educate their state businesses, enforce their immigration law, and prosecute or violate those that do not comply. Which state, you may be wondering? I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Here is the introduction to my article, which can be read online at AzCentral:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — When it comes to cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, Arizona may be getting the headlines, but South Carolina seems to be getting results. Only three businesses – all in the Phoenix area – have been prosecuted in the nearly three years since Arizona’s highly publicized employer-sanctions law took effect.
During that time, not a single business outside of Maricopa County has been punished for hiring illegal immigrants. By contrast, South Carolina has cited more than 200 businesses for being out of compliance since that state’s employer-sanctions law went into effect in 2009. South Carolina officials say that their efforts have paid off with far fewer illegal hires.
The two states have radically different approaches on how to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants.
South Carolina’s system gives authorities the power to scrutinize businesses’ hiring records and the state has a comprehensive program to educate employers about the legal consequences of hiring illegal immigrants. If auditors find illegal immigrants on the payroll, employers are cited, fined and forced to fire the workers.
In Arizona, county prosecutors must build an individual court case against each employer suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. And they must do it without easy access to the employer’s records, because the Arizona law does not provide subpoena power for those types of investigations.

Visit AzCentral to read the full story. Take a look at other immigrations stories covered in the 2010 News21 program at Arizona State University.

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Filed under Arizona, Facts, Internship, South Carolina, United States

Getting to know the face of Ecuador

There are so many people just wandering the streets in Ecuador. I’ve always had this desire to ask each person I look in the eyes while walking these sidewalks to work or to eat, “Where are you going? Why? Why now? How did you get here?” They are all so similar in attributions: dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes.

an ecuadorian boy in the park

In the United States we seem to place all Latin Americans into one category. Yet, they are all so different. Ecuadorians look like Ecuadorians and I just don’t know how to explain it. Mexicans are Mexicans. Argentineans behave like Argentineans.

There is a girl I work with who is half-Argentinean and I think I have begun to annoy her with how many times I tell her that she reminds me of my friend who was born in Argentina. How she cuts her food and the way she holds the utensils. Not to mention their appearances as well: the light shade of brown hair. The long fingers with the curves at the middle and end. The facial structure.

It amazes me how people from each country have the same characteristics with their appearances. What is supposed to make us unique? Maybe that is where language comes in or dress styles or traditions. How are we supposed to stand out from each other?

Tonight, my friend and I went to a jazz festival and met another friend I had made from the blogger world (her blog is Afoot and Light-Hearted). We spoke about how “gringa” we looked in the crowd of people. I remember her saying, “I can spend two years here and people would still think it was my first day here [in Quito].” We couldn’t help but laugh and agree. This world continues to judge people based on their appearance. A fellow traveler approached us at the festival, I don’t know whether it was because we were speaking English or was based on our appearance. However, the common element was that he felt safe and secure enough to come over and talk to us because we were from the same country.

Sure, it’s nice to meet people with whom you have stuff in common with, such as language and appearances, but isn’t travel supposed to push you? Make you learn a whole different culture? What better way to do that than to meet the people who are living the culture every day of their lives? It’s like we place this barrier that prevents us from reaching out to these people. Makes you feel like you’re intruding in their lives but this is not the case.

As the traveler, it is your responsibility to make the effort to appreciate the place you are visiting and to get to know its people. Dark hair, light hair, dark skin, light skin, Spanish or English, we are all humans and we can all connect with each other. Breaking down the barriers helps bring about cultural understanding and in doing so, breaks down stereotypes and builds a better world.

Next time you get the chance to meet someone new don’t be afraid to kiss the person’s cheek and say, “Hola, como estas?”


Filed under Ecuador, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Tips, Travel, United States, Worldwide

Ready & packed, but the weather may disagree

Today was a successful day. It had to be. Otherwise, I would be, well, to be blatant, I would be screwed. I finished packing! Hooray! During my afternoon devoted to packing, I was reminded of two things.

1. I am definitely not a girly girl. I would gladly sacrifice a pair of shoes to fit my camelback into a suitcase.

2. I fit the stereotype of a typical North American that I think I need to bring all my “things” with me when I travel. However, after a few weeks I’ll realize I had brought too much.

I’ve also come to the realization that I may have had the disadvantage of being born and raised in Arizona, a state that gets less rain in a year than others receive in a day, to paint you somewhat of a portrait of my origins.

This is what I’ll be experiencing in my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

forecast for my first week in Ecuador

Rain, rain and more rain. I’m shocked I was able to buy an umbrella today at the store. I didn’t think they existed in Arizona. Okay, maybe I’m being overly dramatic but I’m being serious when I say that this is going to be a big change. Talk to any native Arizonan and they will tell you that anything below 70 degrees fahrenheit is absolutely freezing! I’m shuddering right now just seeing these digits. I don’t think I have more than two pairs of long pants and four, thin sweaters.  Oh well, it will be an adventure to say the least!


Filed under Arizona, Ecuador, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States, Worldwide

Basic Tips for the Long-Term Traveler

THE ViSA: Start the process as soon as possible. Each visa has its own list of requirements that must be fulfilled before your passport can be stamped. Individually, those requirements may take quite a bit of time to be completed. Such as, obtaining the police report to show that you are in good standing (this took me about a week), or the medical form from your doctor stating you are in good health (this required shots to prove I didn’t have illnesses, the time it took to get results back from the lab, as well as having a notary come to the doctor’s office to notarize that form). I also had to have my contact in Ecuador sign me up for school and fax me the school registration forms; and also had to go to my bank and get a form (had to be notarized) to prove I had the economic means to support myself.

make a list to keep you organized

The biggest tip to keep in mind while trying to obtain your visa in time is to consider where your consulate is located. There may not be one in your state. You may have to fly, like in my case, or drive to an outside state to get your visa. Check this out first, because it will lengthen the process in order to  purchase airline tickets and set aside travel time.

MONEY: If you have bills that need to be paid every month, write out checks (leaving the date area empty) and have some family member or close friend send those every time the bill arrives.

CURRENCY: Find out if a bank close by can exchange your currency so that you may avoid the higher fees associated with exchanging currency at airports or in the country where you’ll be traveling. Major banks, such as Wells Fargo, can complete exchanges.

PASSWORDS: Give your closest family member the passwords to your e-mail, credit card and bank providers so they can help you if you should find yourself in need of immediate help.

ADDRESSES: Write down the addresses of your hotel, apartment, hostel that you’ll be staying so you’re friends and family have a place to send care packages (i.e. health products that may not be your preference in the country you are traveling, or your favorite snacks that you’ve been missing).

ACTiViTATE CARDS: Do not wait until you are outside the country and are going to the market to buy your first week’s or month’s groceries to have your card declined. Make sure you call your credit card company and notify them that you will be traveling for an extensive period of time and give them the dates.

If you plan on using a debit card, go to your bank and let the people there know that you’ll be out of the country for a long while. They should give you a toll-free number and activation code that will allow your card to be used outside the country.

CELL PHONE: Suspend your phone immediately. Most countries outside the states have internet cafes or places that will allow you to phone home. Trust me, you won’t be phoning home that often anyway because you’ll be so busy. And if you must, download SKYPE on your computer before you leave and tell your family or friends to do the same. If you happen to be on at the same time (since they’re living their lives and you’re traveling) or have setup a SKYPE date, you can TALK and SEE each other for free.

HEALTH iNSURANCE: Purchase travel insurance or check to see if your current health-care provider covers you while you are traveling. To help prevent high-cost, consider keeping the basic plan you are on and relying on your insurance just for emergencies. Those from the U.S. tend to live in fear that any health-care providers outside the country do not have the same standards of practice. However, many travelers say otherwise. Of course, it is up to each individual traveler’s experience to make their own judgment call.

MORE: If you have any tips you’d like to add, please feel free to post a comment and I will edit the posting.


Filed under Facts, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Tips, Travel, United States, Worldwide

No diamonds but plenty of sparkle!

Just one mile from the popular Mammoth Caves is a gem that should not be overlooked.

diamond caverns is privately-owned

For more than 150 years, Diamond Caverns has offered tours into an underworld of stalagmites and stalactites. You can see more formations here than on most tours throughout the tunnels at Mammoth Caves. The hour-long tours through Diamond Caverns are intimate, ours being less than 10 people including the guide, providing opportunities to ask many questions and have many picture-taking moments.

Walking up and down the stairs (noticing a pattern in exploring caves?) and through these caverns on a 1/2 mile trail you’ll notice one unique attribute: this cave is alive. Yes, alive. You can hear and see the water dripping, and see the river that flows through the place.

You’ll feel it falling on your head or shoulder and realize these formations are still growing and have been for thousands of years.

At one time, they used to hold wedding ceremonies in these caverns. You can see the altar during the tour and realize just how small these ceremonies must have been. They were definitely standing room only, with enough foot space for maybe five people to watch the couple recite their lines in front of the pastor.

the altar for weddings once held in the caverns

Mammoth Caves and Diamond Caverns were in good relations. When the railroad was developed, Diamond Caverns was a major stop on the line and tourists could visit both attractions in the same day.

However, once the automobile decided to ride the roads, more people went straight to Mammoth Caves, passing by the others. With more than 15 caves in the region, competition soon got the better of them.

The result: Kentucky Cave Wars.

Local cave owners would use harsh tactics to attract visitors to their caves, such as false advertisements or spreading rumors about Mammoth Caves. In the Diamond Caverns you will be able to see some of the results of the Cave Wars where people snuck in and actually broke formations.

stalactites and stalagmites inside the diamond caves

To bring some focus on Diamond Caves, improvements were made. Electrical lights were modernized, the wooden stairs were upgraded to concrete and a bridge was added. Above ground, the lodge was made bigger and cabins were added to make the destination an authentic tourist attraction.

Sadly, it wasn’t until the tragic death of infamous spelunker Floyd Collins that people flocked to Cave City. He was trying to discover a new cave but soon became stuck after a rock fell, trapping his leg. Rescuers made several attempts over time to reach him, unable to use explosives in fear of a cave-in. People from all over drove their cars and camped out to watch the ordeal, others sent him food in glass jars. Unfortunately, a collapse did occur before the rescuers could save him. His death brought national media attention to all the caves and soon after, Mammoth Cave National Park was established as well as a healthy relationship among the other caves.

a puddle of water in the caverns

Diamond Caves faced transformation for many following years, including a growth in size after explorers found more passages, being hit by a tornado, new owners, as well as the re-naming to its current title, and much more. It is the fourth-oldest commercial cave in the United States and is still aging with evidence of each slow drip of water falling from its formations. Do not drive past this jewel!

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Filed under History, Kentucky, Nature, Tour, Travel, United States

Becoming ant-sized while crawling through Mammoth Caves in Kentucky

mammoth caves is known as one of the best interpretive national parks

About three hours from Indianapolis is Cave City, Kentucky, which is located off Exit 53 on Interstate 65, passing through the capital city of Louisville. Since its founding in 1835, the area thrived, but has recently undergone some depletion after being hit hard during the country’s economic recession. However, it still has much to offer the adventurous traveler.

Most of the businesses that closed their doors were not worthy of your time or money, essentially the typical tourist trap. The quality attractions, such as the Green River Canoe or the Jesse James Riding Stables, which take you horseback riding on what they deem the most gentle horses around throughout the hillsides and valleys where Jesse himself rode while fleeing the law, are still going strong and provide memorable moments during your visit.

Nonetheless, the number one tourist attraction in the caves region is Mammoth Caves National Park. The caves are the world’s longest, running more than 390 miles in length with still more to be discovered. There is no entrance fee to the park, which is home to  over a dozen endangered species and has as much to see and do above ground as there is beneath. You can horseback ride and hike over 80 miles of trails or mountain bike on over 20 miles of trails.

the map of over 390 miles of trail, with more still being discovered

In the summer of 2010, the park opened the doors to its new visitor center, where people can purchase gifts, souvenirs, books and tickets for more than 10 different cave tours.

Note: Some do sell-out quickly and others are only offered once a day, depending on the season. I highly suggest checking the Website for Mammoth Cave to make reservations online for most of the tours. A few are not available by reservation and must be purchased at the Visitor Tour on the day of the tour.

Before every tour the guides explain the physical and mental considerations that must be taken on your part. Yes, mental considerations. The caves can play tricks with your mind. There are points in tours where you have to bend down and almost walk on your knees to get through passages. At other times, you are walking across a bridge or up/down a staircase, look over to the side and see a never-ending drop. The mere fact that you are hundreds of feet below the surface is another hurdle to overcome. I can honestly say it is worth it all though. Groups, depending on tour, range from 12 to 120 in size.

It should be known that Mammoth Caves National Park has highly knowledgeable and passionate guides. Every question you ask them will get an in-depth answer with an eager tone. These people look forward to spending their days underground sharing the stories of the caves, its history as well as their own personal experiences in the caves. One of the girls first visited the park when she was eight and now she is leading tours.

Tip: Choose to either be at the front of the pack or at the end  if you want to have the chance to ask the guide leading the group or the guide at the back of the group specific questions you have regarding things you notice in the caves or have in general about the history of them while you walk. Trust me, you will have many questions pop up in your head and they are more than willing to answer.

I took two tours: New Entrance Tour & the Historic Entrance Tour.

walking down stairs in a narrow passage

New Entrance Tour:

Length: 2 hours, 3/4 mile.

Tour Limit: 114 people

Total Stairs: 500, including 280 on initial descent

Difficulty: Moderate

The New Entrance Tour has the guides shuttling you to an entrance that appears to be a random steel door in a hillside, resembling a portal to a bomb shelter. The opening was created after a man, who wanted his own cave, had purchased land with a sinkhole above a portion of the caves that he knew were linked with Mammoth Caves. He used dynamite to blast a new way into the caves and started exploring.

On the initial descent, you walk down 280 steps that become extremely narrow and steep, winding through passages no wider than your hips. Once you reach the stopping point you make your way through the caves. At one point you reach a big room, and the group will take a seat while the guide explains some history and tells stories about the caves. This is also where they turn all the lights out, showing you what some of the earlier explorers faced during their time down in the very passageways you are walking through.

During your entire time down in the caves, the guides will be explaining various things such as the writing on the walls, how the rooms got their names and prominent people whose names will be forever associated with the caves.

Frozen Niagara Falls

The main attraction of the New Entrance Tour is the Frozen Niagara, which is 130 feet below ground surface. You enter a room of formations rising from the ground or hanging from the ceilings like icicles. These columns are called stalagmites and stalactites. They are created by calcium salts and the dripping of water. The bigger formations, such as the Frozen Niagara take thousands of years to form by the slow drip, drip, drip of water and is a sight to marvel. After this stop, you make your way out of the cave via the Frozen Niagara Entrance, completing a two hour and 3/4 mile trip.

This tour does not require a jacket and is a great basic introduction to the Mammoth Caves. It takes you down and up stairs, crouching through tunnel passages, provides a glimpse at the river below you and a stroll through a room full of formations.

the Historic Tour path

Historic Tour

Length: 2 hours, 2 miles

Tour Limit: 120 people

Total Stairs: 440, including 155 at Mammoth Dome

Difficulty: Moderate

Warning: This is tour is not for those who suffer claustrophobia or are afraid of heights. You will experience steep stairs, bridges and crawl spaces. Again, it is worth it to push yourself!

On this tour you get to enter the original opening to the caves and walk to a large room at 140 feet below the surface, called the Rotunda, which still has artifacts from the early days when these caves were mined.

After this you walk yourself through tunnels that make you feel like a tiny ant in an ant hill, and over a bridge that crosses the Bottomless Pit. Take a peek over the edge and see blackness for as long as your eyes can see.

the giant's coffin

You will have the chance to pay respects at the Giant’s Coffin. A large granite form is laying in front of you and appears to be the final resting place of a large person. This is also where the guides will tell a story about a slave woman who was the only one buried in the Mammoth Caves in this spot on the tour. They believe she may have held a prominent position for having been brought all the way underground to be placed.

The biggest attraction on this tour, in my opinion as well as my mom’s, is Fat Man’s Misery. They even have a tiny sign to let you know that you have arrived to this portion of the tour, which is a passageway that has you going from a standing position, to a crawling position in a narrow space that has you squeezing your way through to make your way into the Relief Room, where you can stand and go to the bathroom.

At last you’ll make your way to The Tower in Mammoth Dome where you’ll climb up five levels of stairs that also get more narrow along the way before making your way back to the Rotunda Room and into daylight once again. Although you won’t see any formations, you’ll get a rich taste of history and stories about the people who walked before you in these caves.

squeezing through Fat Man's Misery on Historic Tour

I survived both tours. Granted, it took me some deep breathing and support from my parents to get me in there, it was well worth it like I’ve mentioned in this blog post. To feel smaller than ordinary and see the vastness of these caves is astonishing.

The passion the tour guides possess for the caves is inspiring. Some are the next in their generation to walk underground, and now their kids are working themselves up the hierarchy ladder to become a guide.

Both tours I went on are excellent introductions to the caves. The New Entrance Tour is on the opposite end of the Historic Tour, so you get to enter from both sides of the cave system.

For the more daring, there is a tour offered at night, Violet City Lantern Tour, where the only light you have guiding you for 3 hours and 3 miles is a lantern you are holding. As for the cave explorer,  the Wild Cave Tour is about six hours and 5 miles in difficult and strenuous situations.

Note: Some pictures in this post were taken by my mom.


Filed under Facts, Kentucky, Nature, Outdoors, Tour, Travel, United States

In Indiana, Brown County is Very Green

brown county state park

There’s not much provided in the form of activities in the Johnson County area of Indiana. You could “just be” like my mother says they were back in the days growing up in the county. They would bowl with their leagues, go swimming and boating on the lake, and read. During the weekends they would drive up to Indianapolis to go dancing and follow the local bands from hotel lounge to hotel lounge. Of course there are local fairs and festivals, but a trip can’t really be planned around those. Fast-forward to the present and not much has changed, the same bowling alley Hi-Way Lanes still stands. There is Rascals, the local go-kart racetrack that is pretty popular, but my mom says that didn’t exist while she grew up. However, about 30 minutes away, depending on traffic, an active paradise can be found at Indiana’s largest state park in Brown County, which opened in 1929.

The park’s rugged hills and hollows are said to resemble the Smoky Mountains and gained the nickname “the little smokies”. There are two entrances into the nearly 16,000 acre park: the North Gatehouse and the West Gatehouse. I recommend the north entrance off highway IND 135 & 46 because you get to pass through a covered brige, which crosses over Salt Creek. A lot of covered bridges are hard to see these days, being torn down or replaced with modern bridges that are more structurally safe.

the covered bridge to the north entrance to the park

The park entrance fee is $5 for in-state visitors and $7 for those out-of-state. Visitors can find plenty of camping and picnic areas around the hills and among the trees that cover the park. For those just exploring the park for the day or afternoon, there are vistas that offer breath-taking views, playgrounds for children and the Nature Center.

The best activities one can do inside the Brown County State Park are hiking and mountain biking. The park offers eight different types of mountain biking trails (which are noted as alphabetical letters on the park map) that range from easy to more difficult, most difficult and extremely difficult. You can connect with the other trails in certain instances. Their length vary from 1.2 miles to 4.1 miles, such as the Schooner Trace. As for hiking, there are about 12 trails (represented by numbers on the park map) ranging from easy to moderate or rugged. None is longer than three miles, unless you combine them just like you can with the mountain bike trails. Some trails can connect with each other like the one my parents and I hiked around Ogle Lake in the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve.

the giant trees that stand over you

The Preserve is home to a special species of tree. The Yellowwood are rare all across Indiana but seem to prosper in Ogle Hollow, which was dedicated in 1970 as a preserve. It is classified as a mesic upland forest because of its medium moisture of soil, which is drier on the slopes and wetter in the hollows.

We started on Trail 4, which is a moderate 1.25 mile path that descends through bush and a forest of all sorts of trees with thick and thin trunks. Their branches reach out at all angles interweaving with each other to create a green canopy overhead. This creates a cool atmosphere with plenty of shade. A haziness brought about by a mixture of humidity and patches of sunlight breaking through the clusters of leaves make you feel like your in a whole other realm.

The trail ends with a view of the lake but we continued forward and met the start of Trail 7, which is a 1.5 mile hike that loops around Ogle Lake at a moderate level. It takes you over slopes, across wooden plank bridges, and up and down wooden stairs over ravines.

ogle lake

People are allowed to fish in the designated areas off the trail. After you circle the lake, the trail re-connects with Trail 4, eventually turning into the rugged Trail 5. There are two steep climbs on stairs that will get your heart racing and lungs pumping, but should be expected to get you back up the hill you descended earlier. When you make your way out of the lush forest you’ll realize you made a complete 3.5 mile circle from your starting point.

the fire tower

We finished our visit to Brown County State Park with a climb to the top of one of the few remaining Fire Towers for a panoramic view of the park. The actual cabin at the top was locked and we were unable to get in, but the view from the highest point was still worth the scary climb up the steps that got smaller and smaller with each turn.

Overall, Brown County is a popular spot for tourists, especially the shopping village in Nashville, Indiana, but the vastness of the State Park will make you feel as if you are getting to see a remote and untouched part of Indiana.

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