lake anna, virginia

 

For the past few years, each spring I have found myself making my way towards beautiful Lake Anna in central Virginia.  I spend five weeks there in May and June for the annual Virginia Renaissance Festival.  Though I’m called to Virginia for work, I really look forward to the time I get to spend there each year.

Lake Anna is one of the largest lakes in Virginia, spanning more than 20 square miles in Louisa, Orange, and Spotsylvania counties. Lake Anna is an ideal vacationer’s lake. It is clean and well maintained by Lake Anna State Park, several campgrounds and marinas along it’s edges, and plenty of homes with private water access.

Come out for a weekend and a chance to relax and get back to nature.  The best times to visit are spring and summer, but I’ve heard winters can be beautiful as well.  Soft white snowfall covers rolling hills, and dark brown barren winter trees line a still grey lake making for a quiet nearly mono-chromatic beauty that is incredibly peaceful and restful.

I’ve yet to visit in the winter, but in the summer there is plenty to see and do around Lake Anna.

Consider camping inside Lake Anna State Park, where you will find your standard state park campground amenities: well maintained roads, wide level camp pads, fire pits, and rustic bath houses. For those disinclined to stay in a tent, there are several cabins of various sizes available for rent.  Lake Anna State Park has over 15 miles of trails to hike and access to a sandy beach perfect for families to spend the day at the lake. Sunbathe in the sand while the kids swim in the lake shallows. There is also a public boat launch point from within the state park.

Also available for camping is nearby Christopher Run Campground. It too has a small beach and boat launch available for campers.

While on vacation, consider spending some time at the nearby Lake Anna Winery.  The Winery is open Wednesday – Sunday each week. Tours of the winery are available upon request. If you sit down to a tasting, definitely ask to try the Lake Side Sunset, charmingly peachy/rose-colored, fruity, semi-dry wine. Sweet, refreshing, and incredibly easy to drink chilled on a hot summer evening, the Lake Side Sunset is my personal favorite of the Lake Anna Winery wines.

Lake Anna Winery is part of the Virginia Wine Trail, which provides a leisurely self-driven tour of six of central Virginia’s wineries. They also host many events throughout the year including fireworks, concerts, and more. Check their website to find out if there is anything exciting happening during your visit.

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Swim in the Lake (left), or visit the Lake Anna Winery for a summertime concert (right)

And of course, I should mention the Virginia Renaissance Festival.  Come out to the Lake Anna Winery in May and early-June and travel back in time with us! Visit their website to learn more about this year’s dates and times. Come dressed like a princess or pirate and browse the high quality artists and craftsmen selling their wares at the Renaissance faire. See incredible live performances of musicians, actors, and entertainers. Drinks some wine and ale and have yourself a day of merriment and fun. Look for me at The Silk Road Traders, custom blend perfume oils booth! I’ll make you smell real nice.

Whatever time of year you decide to visit, Lake Anna is sure to delight you with its beauty and tranquility. This year I was doubly happy to arrive, exhausted after my three-week long tour of the United States. I left Santa Barbara, California and made stops in Las Vegas, Zion National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Colorado, and Pittsburgh before finally landing at Lake Anna in time for the faire.  You can read all about those adventures in the previous weeks’ blogs.

I took every opportunity to relax in Virginia. We had lazy lake days, cook outs, plenty of leisurely evening walks and spent a nice overnight trip in Washington D.C (see next week’s blog post).

It was good to relax, because coming up next is a six week adventure in Europe!  Stay tuned for stories from London, England; Malaga, Spain; and various parts of Italy including Rome, Assisi, Florence, Naples, and Cefalu`, Sicily.

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as an artist and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

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arches national park

Today lets talk about Arches National Park, in Utah, on the Colorado Plateau and relatively close to the Colorado state border.

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Though the sandstone cliffs and formations of the park can seem harsh and barren, plenty of life still finds a way to thrive.

Arches National Park is beautiful in a stark and formidable sort of way.  It is a land filled with sweeping vistas built of solid red rock. It seems you can look in any direction and find stunning natural stone formations in the shapes of arches, pinnacles, standing columns, precariously balanced boulders and more.

The park is best known for Delicate Arch, a 65 foot tall naturally formed sandstone arch. But there is plenty more to see and explore in Arches National Park.

The park road entrance is just outside of Moab, the tiny outdoorsy little town I talked about last week. Just past the entrance the road climbs steeply with a number of sharp switchbacks marking the rapid rise in elevation. Though the park is filled with hiking trails and perfect spots for rock climbing of all sorts, if you only have a couple hours to spend then just taking a long and winding drive through the park. The views available along the main road are sure to satisfy.

The first sights on your way in are a group of incredibly tall, long narrow columns called the Courthouse Towers.  Just past these monoliths find the Petrified Dunes. These dunes formed 200 million years ago.  Back then they were part of a massive sandy desert area. Over time other stones and sand settled on top of the dunes, compressing and hardening them. Only after the other stones were again carried away by erosion were the original sand dunes, now petrified, revealed once again. With stones and stone formations I think we often have this sense of timeless beauty, but even stones are constantly changing with the passage of time.

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The Courthouse Towers

Past the Petrified Dunes are many stunning formations including a grouping of rock pinnacles, and a collection of smaller stone arches in The Window Section of the park. These arches include Pothole Arch, Double Arch, North Window and South Window. Don’t overlook the balanced rock, a massive boulder perched on top the point of an unbelievably narrow pinnacle.

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The Balanced Rock

Continue on and take in the sweeping panoramas and stunning sandstone cliffs that make up the bulk of the park.  If you only have time for one hike, I recommend taking one of the three trails to check out Delicate Arch.  The first trail is a short ten-minute hike up to the Lower Delicate Arch View Point.  This hike is good for all athletic abilities and is wheelchair accessible. The second option is a hike to the Upper Delicate Arch View Point. This is an easy to moderate hike of about 30-minutes (.5 miles). From the this view point the arch is plainly visible across a canyon. The third option is to hike directly out to Delicate Arch.  This is a difficult three-hour (3 mile) hike over open slick rock in full sun. Bring plenty of water and be prepared for a narrow rock ledge crossing before reaching Delicate Arch.

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Delicate Arch as seen from the Upper Level Delicate Arch View Point

I opted for hike number two, out of respect for my short time frame and hopes to be back on the highway before too late in the day. You can see from my picture of Delicate Arch what kind of view you can expect from the Upper Delicate Arch View Point.  It is a nice view, but if I’m ever near Arches National Park again I definitely want to do the more difficult Delicate Arch hike.  I also hope to spend more time exploring the Devil’s Garden.  This area of the park is at the most northern tip of the park and includes a campground and an extensive collection of trails and dozens of arches.

But unfortunately the sun was working its way lower in the sky and I knew it was time to hit the road again.  So with a last appreciative sigh at the beautiful vistas before me, I climbed back into my Jeep and made the slow trek back out of Arches National Park.

Next up on my journey? A few days and nights visiting friends along the way towards my final destination, the fine state of Virginia and the beautiful Lake Anna.  Check in next week for some exciting East-Coast adventures!

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

wiggle your toes in coral pink sand dunes

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Imagine pale pink sand rolling in massive hills as tall as buildings, nestled in a great bowl of red Navajo Sandstone walls. Imagine walking out onto the dunes, a wavering line of your footprints strung out behind you as you walk, barefoot, along the tallest ridge.  Warm, incredibly soft, pink sand working its way between your toes as you walk along, steadily warming beneath the bright afternoon sunlight.

You pause for a sip of water and hear the happy laughter of children up ahead.  Suddenly two curly little heads go whizzing down the side of the dune, holding tightly to a cheap plastic disk, a snow sled repurposed for these perfect desert dunes. A third child, too impatient to wait for the disk to return, launches himself head first down the hill and rolls to the bottom in a pink dust cloud of arms and legs.  He is chased by the family dog, who is mostly confused, though happy because his tiny humans are happy.

Welcome to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes of southern Utah.

The dunes are a protected State Park of Utah.  Here, visitors can walk, sled, ski, snow sand-board, and take ATVs out onto the dunes for a day of adventure.  With a backdrop of red sandstone cliffs all around, its the perfect setting for a Mad Max photoshoot or a Mars Landing sci-fi film.

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes got their beautiful pink hue from the Navajo Sandstone cliffs surrounding them. Over time, high winds passing through the mountains caused the cliffs to erode. The winds deposited the pink dust past the mountains and created the beautiful coral colored sand dunes we see today.

I like thinking about the sandstone cliffs and the dunes and the wind. I feel like there are lessons to be learned there. Maybe the lesson is that only with the constant adversity of the wind, are the mountains able to create the beautiful dunes.  Or maybe the lesson is that despite the constant adversity of the winds the mountains remain strong and permanent through time.  Or, the dunes and the mountains are made of the same stuff. But where the mountains are rigid and unchanging, the dunes are flexible and shifting.

Its ok to be a mountain, strong in the face of adversity. But its also ok to be a dune, created from adversity, and beautiful in its constant shifting and changing. Be a mountain if you want to be a mountain. Or be a dune if you want to be a dune.  The dunes don’t loose their essence, their mountain dust, no matter how many new shapes they take.

You be you! And while you’re being you…go be you at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, a beautiful pale pink treasure in the middle of the mid-western deserts that’s just waiting for you to wiggle your toes in the sands.

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

angel’s landing and zion national park

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A panoramic view of Angel’s Landing

Zion National Park is an incredibly beautiful national natural landmark that deserves far more pomp and attention than it receives.  Located in Utah, Zion has been a protected National Park since 1919, though today it is unfortunately occasionally overlooked in favor of the more famous National Parks in the area including the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.

Indians have lived in Zion for thousands of years, but it received the name it holds now after Mormon settlers arrived in the early 1860’s.  The story goes that after crossing the harsh midwest, the settlers arrived at the stunning, sheltered, green and lush canyon area and deemed it a truly heavenly site. The central feature of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon, though the varied landscape of the 229 square mile park includes desert, woodland, mountains, canyons, buttes, rivers, arches, and more.

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Beginning my hike to Angel’s Landing. It starts with a gentle trail along the Virgin River.

Visiting Zion National Park was high on my bucket list for at least a decade before I was finally able to make my way there this spring. The reason? Angel’s Landing.

Angel’s Landing is the name given to a 1,500 foot tall rock formation artfully positioned at the intersection of three canyons. A short but rigorous 2.5 mile trail leads from a base in the Grotto, up through a series of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles, and past Scout Lookout. Scout Lookout is the final destination for many, because past that the trail narrows drastically. Often only two feet wide, the trail has been forcefully carved into cliff sides anchored with chains for balance and support. At other times a mere three feet separates travelers from plummeting cliffs on either side. But the view from the summit is worth every terrifying step.  Stand at the point of Angel’s Landing and feel the vast windy emptiness of open canyons surrounding you on three sides. No matter how long you sit taking in the view, you will always wish you had sat just a little bit longer.

I had two days to spend in Zion, but after my first glance at the stunning canyons and sandstone cliffs I knew I could have spent a week there and still not been satisfied.

So what did I do? Where did I stay? What did I see?

Camping in the park is hard to get. The reserve sites fill up quickly and the rest is first-come, first-served. So instead of camping in the park itself, I reserved a spot at the privately owned Zion Canyon Campground in Springdale.

Springdale is a tiny mountain resort town situated just outside the gates of Zion National Park. It has camping, bed & breakfasts, and motel lodging; several great restaurants and bars; and a general store or two stocked with postcards, tourist souvenirs, and any last minute camping gear an intrepid adventurer may have forgotten. A free shuttle makes frequent laps between points in the town and the entrance to the park, so staying in the town is a convenient and easy choice.

If you’ll remember from last week’s adventure, I left Las Vegas in the late afternoon after dropping my friend off at the airport.  I made a bee-line for Zion, and arrived just before dusk.  I quickly checked in and set up camp in the dwindling daylight. All set for the night, I went for a walk.  Springdale in the evening has a welcoming and friendly feel. Warm glowing lights and the jingle of laugher pours from the restaurants and bars in the evening. Pass other vacationers on the street and you’ll get a friendly wave and a smile, and occasionally a bit of conversation.

Though the bar sounded inviting, I decided to turn in for the evening. I was still working off the last of my Vegas hangover and I wanted to be able to hit the trail early the next morning. So, with a contented sigh I returned to my quiet camp and settled in for the night.

The next morning I packed a daypack, strapped on my boots, and took the shuttle to Zion National Park. At the front gate hikers disembark from the town shuttle, pay the entrance fee, and enter the park. There are hiking trails of every length and for every athletic level available in Zion.  Locating the trail head for Angel’s Landing, I hopped on another free shuttle bus, this one designed for inside the park, and made my way to the Grotto.

True to it’s description, the trail to Angel’s Landing isn’t long, though it is steep and strenuous at times. I took my time, enjoying the sweeping vistas and stunning canyons all along the way. At Scouts Landing I took a break before conquering the final half mile to the summit. That last bit is really tough! Parts are down right scary. Especially hiking alone. Luckily I went on a busy enough day and met several friendly hikers that let me hike with them for a spell and encouraged me to continue the few times I almost froze.

Of course I passed, or rather was passed by, the stereotypical “Colorado Boys.” You know the type. Far to fit, laughing and joking as they devour strenuous trails in Rainbow flip-flops and hemp t-shirts. I tried not to be too disgusted with them or with myself as they skipped past me in sandals while I struggled to swallow my fear and take one more step forward.

Eventually I made it to the top. It was just as incredible as I hoped it would be.  I sat with my packed lunch and enjoyed the view. I sat until I got cold and stiff, trying to record every stunning detail to memory. The way the canyons faded from a bright orange sandstone to a darker grey rock. The hints of bright yellow and white stone that laced its way in layers throughout each wall. The way the river wound along the canyon floor. The way the lush green vegetation grew up from the river along the the walls of the canyons, eventually petering out to bare sheer rock. The way the crisp spring afternoon sunlight cast one side of the canyons in sharp bright relief and kept the other side in dark cool shadow. The way the wind was just strong enough to be a little bit frightening when I stood at the edge of the cliffs. The warmth of the stone when I laid down and stretched out to get a closer look at the edge. The vast empty space you feel sitting at the edge of a point a only few feet wide surrounded by plunging cliffs and deep canyons.  I snapped a few photos but I knew nothing could ever capture the incredible view before me.

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The view of one canyon from Angel’s Landing.

Finally, with a sigh, I began the climb down. Back in the Grotto, I spent the rest of the day exploring Kayenta Trail and the Lower Emerald Pools.

The next day I went back to the park and rode the shuttle on the full loop to get a simple tour of Zion Canyon. I was just as happy to see the hawks and deer the driver pointed out as I was to see long skinny ropes hanging from cliff faces, dancing lightly as rock-climbers made their way up and then repelled back down.  I got off the shuttle at The Temple of Sinawava and walked into The Narrows. The Narrows is a slot canyon hike in which hikers can venture deep into Zion Canyon along the Virgin River. Unfortunately the day I went The Narrows were closed because of the risk of flash flooding.  I have heard great things about the hike though and highly recommend trying it. If I ever find myself back in the area I know where I’ll be spending the day.

After that I wandered the park for a bit longer before deciding to head south for a spontaneous addition to my road trip.  That morning I had learned about the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and felt that I just couldn’t pass up a chance to go walking in pink sand dunes. Yes, PINK SAND! Awesome!

Check back next week to hear about my adventures in another little celebrated park, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park of Utah.

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as an artist and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.