On Top Of An Enchanted Rock

On Top Of An Enchanted Rock

In 2016 Scott and I were just over 20,000 miles in travel miles; this included a trip to San Francisco, Yosemite, and Athens, Georgia. We also visited Oklahoma and the Western edges of Arkansas using up about 9,000 miles for all of that, the left over miles were in Texas. We are actually focused on visiting all 95 of the Texas State Parks and have managed to visit 48 of those before the end of the year. This took us all over the plains areas of the state, the piney woods, and even into the Hill Country just north of the Austin area. Fortunately, we also were able to visit the far southwestern area of the Davis Mountains helping to give us many, many miles of travel in Texas.

Over the first three weeks of January 2017, we have worked hard at not traveling outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area; but instead, we are finding things locally to keep us entertained. However, we were not able to tame the travel bug much longer. Since I was having to attend the Texans for State Parks Board Meeting in Austin, Scott and I decided it would be the perfect jumping off point to visit a few new-to-us Texas State Parks west of Austin. He took off Thursday and Friday from work and we were set for a good amount of traveling on a four day weekend.

Thursday morning we left later than we had expected from our friends John and Faye’s, but it was worth spending a few more hours with good friends. They are always generous and happy to play host to us. They sent us on our way and we headed to our first of eight state parks, two of which were the only ones not new for us.  We needed to move quickly, but stopped to view a couple of the scenic overlooks on our way towards Inks Lake State Park.


We stayed at Inks Lake State Park for two nights because they had an available cabin. Unfortunately, weekends in Texas there are rarely campsites or cabins available, no matter the time of year. If you are expecting to stay within the Texas State Park system, especially on weekends, you must make reservations as soon as you know when you are planning to visit, even then you are not always able to get a cabin.


We arrived at Inks, obtained our cabin key, and dropped off bedding, clothing and other such things then immediately headed towards Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.  The is located just south of Llano off highway 16. Just before reaching the turn off (RM965), we noticed a sign that said, “Closed When Flashing – Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 9 miles.” It was not flashing, but according to Texas Hill Country website, the pack fills up fast on weekends and is closed due to lack of parking space and the insane amount of people.  Fortunately, we were there on a Thursday so it was not full, but there were a lot of people.

This location is the site of a huge pink granite rock that stands 1825 feet high and is one of only two such sites like this in the United States; the other location is Stone Mountain located just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. While the Texas batholith is much smaller than the one in Georgia, it is still impressive. Both of these granite rocks were once magma chambers for what was once volcanos.  Over time, the magma became granite and the soil around them was eroded away leaving these beautiful stones.


This giant rock welcomes all who wish to climb its seemingly smooth surface to enjoy a unique landscape called sky islands and vernal pools. Here we found what could be compared to tide pools only with cacti and lizards. These depressions shelter different types of plants and animals that have adapted to this hot/cold, windy, and barren environment. In fact, by studying these depressions, ecologists learn how plants and animals come together and live in this habitat; how they modify their environment and help develop soils where there is no soil; and, how plant and animal communities are created and change over time and situation.

In the stone, as we climbed we saw long lines of crystals which have been created by an intense pressure of earth movement and the heat from having been a magma chamber.  Unfortunately, I am not a geologist so I do not know all the right terms and explanations. I do know when the sun hits the granite just right, you can see the crystals within it shine and shimmer reflecting the rays of light.


Scott and I took our time to climb this giant rock, which is an estimated 45-minute climb. Unsurprisingly, it took us over an hour, but we were more concerned with my knee and our safety. Taking it slowly, we took many breaks so we could evaluate my pain level; they were definitely needed breaks for this, resting, and drinking water. Neither of us are use to the hiking, especially such a vertical path; however, we were both determined to reach the top to see the view and to find the survey marker we were positive would be there.

At one point, I almost gave up. I was two-thirds of the way up and I was just exhausted, of course, the knee was telling me off at this point. I told Scott to just continue and I would wait for him. He suggested we sit and drink some water and rest a bit. This was definitely good advice because about fifteen minutes later I was ready to attack the rest of the climb. He reminded me it was okay if I didn’t go, but asked me if I would regret not reaching the top. I would have regretted it very much. This was something I had on my personal “bucket list” and I decided I was just tired and not in much pain.  I was wearing my knee brace and using my trekking poles so the knee did not have as much pressure as it would have.  It always amazes me how using the correct equipment can make an activity so much more enjoyable.

Upon reaching the final five feet of the climb, the sky island made itself known and I was stunned at the beauty of vernal pools. There were small trees, cacti, pools of creatures and algae, I even found one of in the shape of a lopsided heart containing fern looking plants. I was amazed to see the life growing out of the large, round granite rock. Then I looked up and saw the surrounding landscape. My eyes tried to take it all in at once, only to find I was tearing up. I had made it to the top and was able to see the quick rising hills all around the country side full of cedars, scrub oaks and green winter grasses. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed and thrilled at my success.


Suddenly, Scott says, “There has to be a geological survey marker somewhere on this rock!” He quickly walked towards the location he believed to be the highest spot on the rock and there it was; the US Geological Society had placed their mark on the hill to show that it was significant. For hikers today, it is a symbol that they have beaten nature and achieved a great height. For me, it was proof that if I had to stay focused and not give up; I could not have done that without my husband, he encouraged me and reminded me not to give up.


Eventually, we decided it was time to climb down the granite mountain and prepare to take some night sky photos, which was the true reason we had visited this park. The Milky Way was supposed to show itself near the center between the two granite domes and he was determined to get a very nice shot of it. Fortunately for us, I had packed hot chocolate and plenty of warm layers. It was so extremely cold and I hate being cold.

The nine figures at the top of the rock are people.

At one point, while he was taking photos, we heard the worst sound (link goes to TheCrotalusfreak‘s YouTube channel).  It sounded like a person in pain screaming in bursts of three. It sent chills up my spine for sure. I am very prone to my imagination running off with me and it had jumped out of my skin and was running around in fear. It didn’t help any that Scott says, “I sure hope that’s not a person hurt or worse.” I then began to think the worst. Come to find out from another couple who were also taking night sky photos, they had seen a bobcat approaching. They shined their flashlights at him and scared him off. I felt relief to know it was nothing more than a cat named Bob.


At one point the cold had convinced Scott it was time to pack up and return to our little cabin at Inks Lake State Park. We had an hours drive late in the evening, but it was sure to be an interesting one. Deer roam all over the area and often there are carcasses near the road showing the dangers for the wildlife among humans. We actually saw about three deer, but, fortunately for them and us, we had no ill-fated meeting.

This deer was hanging around at Inks Lake State Park when first arrived, he was one of at least a dozen we saw that day before the drive in the dark.

Upon arriving at our home for the next two days, we made beds and promptly went to sleep. The day seemed as if it had been 24 hours long between the driving, climbing, and adventuring. We were ready for a rest because the next morning we would be up and ready to adventure again at a new-to-us Texas State Park; Pedernales Falls State Park would be our 50th State Park and we ready to celebrate.

Can They Actually Do THAT To A National Park?

Can They Actually Do THAT To A National Park?

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In 1906 Oklahoma had a National Park; it was actually the seventh National Park created, yet it is no longer as such. I was surprised to find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area just outside Sulphur, Oklahoma, was once Platt National Park, named after Orville H. Platt who was a Connecticut Senator who served on the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Oklahoma was once Indian Territory and these mineral springs were known to the Chickasaw and Choctaw to be “healing” waters.  They would come together here to be refreshed and cooled during the summer months. Because the “white” man was beginning to encroach on this Native American place of healing and camping, the tribes approached the 1902 government about taking the area to be turned into a place where everyone was able to us use and enjoy instead of it being taken and used privately.  It was then turned into the seventh National Park, Sulphur was moved a little ways from the area and there it sat for many years being used as a health spa complete with golf course.

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The was not used for much more than mineral springs, health spas, and cattle grazing until the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to work on area. The CCC company working on the Platt National Park was Company 808.  This company worked on the park creating bridges, making swimming areas, building spring coverings, planting over 60 types of trees and so much more for eight years until they were moved to the Rocky Mountains National Park in 1940.  The community of Sulphur was appreciative of these young men and did what they could to help them have an clean, attractive camp by donating many gallons of paint for their barracks.

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Even though this was the smallest of all the National Parks, Platt National Park brought in many visitors and helped to create a highway system enabling the masses to visit the area. Unfortunately, because this park was not on the same degree of grandeur as Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks, it was not seen to be of the same superior status. Seventy years after this seventh national park was created, it was no longer a park, but a recreation area.  The park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area (Lake Arbuckle) being renamed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

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Taking time to visit the Sulphur area to enjoy this hidden gem, you will find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Headquarters/Chickasaw Visitor Center is directly across from the main gate.  It is a recent build and rather beautiful.  You will find information about the park, local attractions and history; lots and lots of history to be enjoyed here.

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Even though this is no longer a national park, you can camp in the campgrounds that were once well visited as Platt National Park.  There are three areas:  Central Campground, which is ten group camp sites; Cold Springs Campground, which is directly across from the Travertine Creek and has 63 sites and open from May through September; and finally, the Rock Creek Campground, where 105 year round sites can be found near Veterans Lake.

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Scott and I have been begging friends and family to meet us halfway between them and us for a time of celebration and relaxation, but they never seem to be interested.  Now with the knowledge of this having once been one of the first national parks, I feel an urgency to visit again; I long to camp beneath the trees lovingly planted by Company 808, to swim in the swimming hole where hundreds of thousands have cooled themselves during hot summer days, and to hike the paths once walked by those who had the courage to give up something so special and important to their people to save it for further generations to enjoy.

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Taking time to visit the Sulphur area to enjoy this hidden gem, you will find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Headquarters/Chickasaw Visitor Center is directly across from the main gate.  It is a recent build and rather beautiful.  You will find information about the park, local attractions and history; lots and lots of history to be enjoyed here. (The photo below is a direct link to their site’s photo; unfortunately, we have not been able to visit the center as of the writing of this post.)

For a very good video on this beautiful park, please click HERE.

If you are interested in a deeper, more intense amount of history about this location, please click HERE.

For the NPR story that caught our attention, click HERE.

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Plugging In While Plugged Out

 Have you ever camped? I mean really camped; sleeping in a tent, cooking over an open fire, or relaxed without any cellphone or internet service? Scott and I have camped many times and cooked over an open fire, but we never really camped without being plugged into the internet and cellphone service before. This past weekend was just that!
 
We were unsure how things would go because we had no reception at all on our phones and I was unable to Instagram, Facebook or blog about our adventure the full weekend. However, the experience left us looking for more opportunities to do just that again – be completely disconnected from the electronic, internet world.
 
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What are the benefits I can hear you asking with thoughts thinking of nothing but bordom left to happen. Well, there was not one thing boring about this whole weekend. When we arrived, we had to set up camp. We then checked the park out via the truck. Once we finished that, we found some things to look at and discuss between the two of us. Things like what each other knew about the CCC, which trails we would venture out on Friday morning and when we would cook dinner. Then things got really weird; we met the neighbors!
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     (Here Gladys holds Chewy while Chewy and her Robin smile affectionaly at each other.)
 
Friday was one of those day where the breeze was perfect and the sky was bright. It made the morning hike delightful. As usual, Scott and I took photos and chatted about what we knew and didn’t know about the wild flowers, trees and geology. I was able to find a shell fossil and I did my normal happy dance. There was so much to explore and, because it was a CCC park, we were able to relax at different times upon the benches made in the 1930’s.
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The Texans for State Parks Conference stated Friday evening with an informal discussion of what each of the Friends groups were doing for and in their state parks.  The groups are as different to each other as the parks are to the other parks.  There was Colorado Bend State Park with their caving, trail building and primative lifestyle; Brazos Bend State Park having a strict volunteer program where their members are happy to spend 48 or more volunteer hours giving trail tours, working in the gift shop/nature center, and presenting programs throughout the year; and then there were the other groups like Fort Boggy State Park who were actively rebuilding cabins, Cedar Hill working to fix flood damaged marina/day-use areas, and Lake Brownwood and Lake Cleburne encouraging guests to celebrate the seasons with Christmas Decorating Contests and Spring Runs.  So much diversity and yet they were doing the same thing; they were enjoying their park while sharing their love of those parks with others.
That evening Scott and I were also made aware of the Northeast Texas Trails (NeTT) system that has been started.  It will eventually be a bicycling and hiking path that will ramble along 130 miles across Northeastern Texas from Farmington, Texas, to New Boston, Texas.  They have some trails completed; cleaning up and preparing others, and working to obtain other parts of the property they are supposed to have.  Earl Ericson has been working tirelessly to get this project up and going.  He lost his leg when a car hit him while he was on a bicycle.  He has made it his life’s work to get something for those who want to hike or bike safely.  Scott and I can see this being something we can get behind and get extremely excited about.  It would be a wonderful opportunity to train for the Camino de Santago in Spain.
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After all the presentations were finished, we headed to our little campsite home.  There was time for hot cocoa and chatting beside Robin & Gail’s campfire.  It was peaceful and relaxing without a television, laptop, or cellphones.  It made an end to a good Friday.
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Saturday we had to get up and head back to the Oak Lodge for a full day of meetings about legislation, volunteers, and panels.  Because Scott wanted the pre-sunrising light, we left earlier than we needed to.  He went to the Grand Staircase nearby to take photos while I went in to help set up breakfast for everyone attending the conference.  I was really glad to help since we were not really part of any group there.  This, however, didn’t stop everyone from welcoming us and including us in the questions and discussions.  Unfortunately, we were one of the younger people who were attending and this brought up a few concerns within the panels.  It seems that a majority of volunteers within the Friends groups are the retired, older generation.  Often this causes some of the needs to modernize to be overlooked and feared.  Fortunately, there are some who are younger and are helping the state parks to move forward in the area of media, internet, and technology.
Scott was able to connect with Barbara who is one of the equestrian people working on the future park Palo Pino Mountains State Park.  It was really nice for him to get positive feedback that he is welcome to jump in and take part within the group.  This is one of his favorite places to do astrophotography and he wants to invest his time and energy on it.  Myself, I found the NeTT and the administrative part to the Volunteer side of things.  I see a need for those who are planning to do the NeTT in one go whether hiking or biking and I feel excited in how I can help.  There is also the administrative jobs I enjoy doing that the Texas Parks and Wildlife offices in Austin need help with.  We also have found a place for us within the Brazos/Paluxy area so we have plenty of opportunities for us.  Now to decide how to make all of this work.  I realize it is one step at a time, but at least we know we belong.
That evening we went back to the neighbor’s campfire and were able to enjoy the company of Robin, Gail, Gladys and her family.  We were pleasently surprised by Johnny as he pulled out his guitar and began singing.  Scott was in heaven.  Since we decided to step away from the SCA he has not been able to partake in what are called Bardic Circles.  He has missed entertaining and being entertained around a campfire enjoying the time with friends.  It was a wonderful night and we so hated to see it end.  There will be more camping trips with Robin and Gail’s group, that we have been promised.
Once we were packed up Sunday morning, we said our good-bye to our new friends, hopped in the truck and headed home.  When I asked him what was his favorite part of the long weekend, Scott told me it was Saturday night around the campfire.  Then he added that he was happy we had finally found a place to belong.
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SFO Vacation – Part Two – Trees, Trains, and a Beach; the San Francisco Adventure Continues

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Sunday, January 17, we woke up to a fabulous breakfast of Gluten-Free Banana-Blueberry Pancakes and bacon.  I was extremely thrilled to have pancakes without any flour! Barbara said she added vanilla to help give it a more pancake flavor; it was well worth it.   This trip will turn into a feast for my gluten sensitive gut and I will definately be sharing the websites of the places we induldged.

Because of the time of year we decided to visit, we were rained on most of the ten days we were there.  However, getting to see the area lush, green and misty was so worth the rain boots, ponchos, and umbrellas. We were able to see the Bay Area in a way many tourists will not see.  This gave our trip a hue of imagination and fairy dust.  Ok, maybe not the fairy dust, but it sounded good.

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Once we were packed up with rain gear, we headed to the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.  This would be our first state park that was not a Texas State Park.  We loved every step we took within this park with giant Redwood trees, banana slugs and rain.  The area we spent our time was the Old Growth Redwood Grove Loop Trail.  It is a nicely cared for trail, clearly marked points of interest, and wooden fence giving this park a comfortable path.  This path is wide and accessible with no steps or hard-to-maneuver areas so everyone can enjoy these amazing trees.

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My friend Barbara has a thing she likes to do with her out-of-state visitors, tree hugging.  If you remember, I had Scott practice for this by hugging a tree at Tyler State Park.  That was definately not even close to good practice.

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As you can see, the trees in Henry Cowell are definately huge.  “How do they get so large?” is what I think I am hearing from you all.  From the California State Park website we find this answer to that very question:  “The trees grow tall for the following reasons: large amounts of rain (60-140 inches per year), mostly from November-April; summer fog which reduces evapotranspiration; temperate climate, average temperatures between 45 degrees and 61 degrees Fahrenheit; rich soil in river bottom flats; few natural enemies; burl sprouts, which promote growth after injury by fire or toppling; wind protection by other redwoods.”  And yes, I did hug a tree myself as well as we getting one taken together.  Unfortunately the photos are not that great since it was dark and rainy.

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In the Texas State Park tradition, we decided to take a sign photo.  Unfortunately it was pouring at that point so we took the photo inside the visitor center.  We both looked so horrible due to the rain, but this is now an official State Park in our books!

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So, the State Park was finished and it was time for the Roaring Camp Railroads.  This was an actual logging camp.  The railway used here is original to the camp.  If you have ever wanted to ride a steam engine train, this is a wonderful place to do it.  It is not a long continuous trip, but you will find it full of “switches” to get you up to the top of the mountain.  Yes, I said mountain!  The view is fantastic with all the way up.  But before you enjoy the train ride, you will enter into the town of Roaring Camp and you enter via a covered bridge.

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This is a place to bring your children so they can experience the gold rush days.  Granted, it won’t be like the real gold rush days, but it will give them a wonderful opportunity to experience a little bit of history.  Once you have enjoyed the panning for gold, a tasty treat and souvenir shopping it will be time to take a ride on the Roaring Railway up the mountain to see the Cathedral Grove.

On your way up, you will see some wonderful views, skyhigh redwoods, and unique historical activity.  Once you get up to the top of the mountain you will be given about thirty minutes, give and take, to explore the area and taking a quick break.  We were able to see the grove of Redwoods that is called the Cathedral Grove.

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This was only two-thirds of our day, we still needed to find food for a late lunch and Barbara had still more plans for us.  We piled into the car and headed to the coast!

We went to a beachside town called Capitola.  This had the cutest historical downtown with the tourist shops and tasty resturants.  The best part of this town though was the beach.  I haven’t seen the beach and ocean in more than twenty years and it was like going home.  Scott had never been to the beach even though he had lived in California for a little while so it was wonderful time two!

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One of the best things about our trip into Capitola is that Scott got extremely giddy when he came across a Soquel Creek running into the ocean.  He said he knew about creeks and rivers rushing into the ocean, but he had never seen it happening.  Because I was in tall rain boots I waded into the creek just to show off.

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We were having so much fun looking at the beach and it’s pretty surrounding buildings, but we were getting very hungry so we were off to find food.  We found a Mexican Seafood restuarant called Margaritaville just off the beach next to the creek and it was warm and tasy.  If you are in that area, you should try them because they are worth it.

We finished lunch and walked around the downtown area a bit to visit a couple of shops.  While we were walking around town we came across a shop window full of my favorite things:  rubber ducks!  I had to have a photo.

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This being our final destination for the day, we climbed into the car to head for our home away from home.  It was a wonderful day, but so much for us to enjoy over the next few days.  So, stay tuned for more!

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SFO Vacation – Part One – San Francisco, Here We Come!!!

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Scott and I were lucky enough to travel to the San Francisco area and Yosemite this past January.  It was a whirlwind of a trip, but so worth every moment.  We are planning to visit the areas again, but it will be a while.dfw

Getting up extra early on Saturday, January 16, we were taken to DFW airport to catch a plane to San Francisco.  Neither Scott or I had flown in a while so it was a new experience since so many things had changed.  One of the biggest changes has been security.  It was an experience to say the least, but not as horrible as we have heard.  This doesn’t mean every pass through airport security will be easy, but for it being our first time we found it to be less horror story and more “oops, sorry, we’re new to this.”

Once we blundered our way through the security area, we were able to find coffee and food.  Then we sat ourselves down near our gate and waited patiently to be called for boarding.  Soon we were called to board, found our seats and stowed our carry on and backpacks.  We were lucky enough to have a window seat and next to each other.  Scott was ready to take some morning light photos from his window and enjoy a short two and a half hour flight into LAX.

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Our layover at LAX was just long enough to get some lunch (breakfast was small) and then sit near our gate and wait. We were lucky enough to not have to wait too long and were were quickly on our way to San Francisco Airport.  I had forgotten how beautiful it was to see the mountains, rivers and lakes from thousands of feet above.  It was amazing.  We were able to see snow covered mountains, the Hoover Dam, and the ocean.  Unfortuantly it was raining in San Francisco so the closer we approached the bay area, the more clouds there were.  This caused us to not be able to see the San Francisco skyline as we approached; all we saw was water from the bay and the guiding lights then the runway.

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We were met by our friend Barbara who had a wonderful afternoon planned for us.  She drove us to a very pretty area called Gate Vista Point in Belmont (The photos at that link are not ours, they belong to Robert Gourley).  Everything was so green, purple and blue!  Explaining this wasn’t always the case, she told us about the rain and how wonderful it was to have in the California region.

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Once we took the appropriate tourist photos, we piled back in the warm car (it was extremely chilly) to be driven to a winery she loved to visit.  Along the drive we saw mountains, trees, and did I mentions mountains?  Apparently this is a very mountainous area with twisty, turny roads.  It was beautiful, but she assured us there was more to come as we neared our turn onto to Montebello Road in Cuppertino.  The road twisted this way and turned that way all while going up, up, up.  We passed cyclists riding up the road and I found myself in amazement of their bravery to cycle up such a steep incline AND along side the edge of the road that went down, down, down.  Suddenly this narrow two lane road turned into a very narrow one lane road still twisting and turning showing some of the most fantastic views I have ever seen to this point in our trip.

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We finally reached our destination, Ridge Vineyards.  It was truly a relief to get out of the car and stretch knowing we were on level ground.  Both Scott and I took a few moments and tried to breath in the view while taking as many photos with his camera and my phone as possible.  This vinyard is only the second vineyard Scott and I had been to so we were not exactly sure what to expect.  We were able to taste many of their locally grown wines and I am not a red wine person, but it was some really tasty stuff!  Their best wine was the 2012 Monte Bello, well worth the money!

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Once we finished the wine tasting, we started down the long, winding road.  I was so nervous but Barbara was very good at driving this road.  She took her time and didn’t care what the crazies behind us wanted.  The rain had cleared up a bit so we were able to see San Jose and Sunnyvale in the distance.

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We headed to the San Jose house we would call home for the next week and a half.  I was shocked when Barbara explained we were in the middle of the Silicon Valley!  For some reason I thought it would have been more flat and industrialish.  I am not sure who laughed the hardest, Scott or Barbara.  Silicon Valley was so beautiful and I had just seen the tip of the San Francisco Bay Area; there was so much, much more Wowing to come.

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