Georgia Road Trip: Springer Mountain

It is early in the morning and I hear a drum beat outside my room. We must be expecting a great sunrise this morning. I go to the kitchen to get some coffee and walk down to the sunrise observation area.

The sunrise is amazing this morning. I feel very lucky. The lodge at Hike Inn is mostly quiet but some guests play Here Comes the Sun from their phone and the sunrise group sings along.

After sunrise it is time for breakfast. It is very filling and I am offered extra servings of bacon. I would never pass up extra bacon.

grits, bacon, eggs, peach spoonbread

I talk to the front desk staff about how long today’s hike should take. There are two dinner times scheduled this evening and I am assigned to the early one. I know I am a slow hiker so I ask if I can be moved to the later dinner. I never know how long a hike will take me and I want to be safe. Luckily they can move me.

I ordered a trail lunch yesterday and pick it up at the front desk while I get ready for my hike today ($8 three sandwich choices ~meat, veggie, peanut butter; plus trail mix, and a large cookie).

My cookie. I end up eating it later after my hike.

I start my hike today at 9:20 am. I am hoping that gives me enough time for the return trip.

The hike today is to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 4.4-mile hike (8.8 miles round trip) from the Hike Inn.

The first part of the hike is mostly downhill which is nice but I am warned to save energy for this part on the return trip.

I reach a gap where there is an open area. I cross this area to continue my hike. It is here that I start the hike uphill. Luckily the climb is pretty gradual.

There are a couple springs where I can refill my water bottle with fresh water but my camelback is still 3/4 full and already heavy enough. Good to know that on a hot day there are options for refills.

I finally get to the top. I stop to take some pictures then sit down to enjoy my sandwich. I chat with other hikers.

Sandwich time

There are ladies from the lodge up here who brought their own wine in a water bottle. What a fun idea!

I try not to rest too long because I want to allow enough time to get back in time for my late dinner. While hiking back I meet a barefoot hiker from Florida. It takes a brave person to hike barefoot in the woods.

I love the fall colors and slightly barren trees.

The last couple miles on the way back is hard because there is about a mile of inclines to hike toward the end. I need to stop frequently.

I eventually arrive back at the inn. I am not as late as I anticipated. In fact, I could have made it in time for the early dinner. I decide to take advantage of this extra time and shower so I am cleaned up for dinner. I can go to sleep soon after eating. I am so tired I forget to photograph my dinner.

My body is sore so I proactively take pain relief so I get a good night sleep. I despise being woke up by aching muscles.

Next Morning

I do wake up a few times during the night but I otherwise am well rested. We are woken up for sunrise but it isn’t as lovely as the day before. Fortunately I scheduled two nights at the inn and had at least one full sunrise.

After sunrise I take one last look around the grounds.

Since I burned so many calories yesterday I am excited about breakfast this morning. No bacon today but I enjoy the sausage and biscuits and gravy. After breakfast I get ready to checkout.

After I pay my bill I sit at the front entrance tightening my shoes and such getting ready for hike back. There are a group of ladies getting ready to hike back to the parking lot “the long way” (all the way to Springer mountain and then to the parking lot for a total of about 12 miles). One in the group is not up for the long hike (nor would I be) and asks if she can walk back with me. Its been a long while since I’ve had a hiking companion. We have a nice hike back and talk about lots of different things. We make it back to the parking lot safe!

Never been so happy to see a sign that I have reached the parking lot. I have another smaller hike scheduled for later in the trip but for now I am heading to Helen to relax.

Salento: Valle de Cocora

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is hike in the nearby Cocora Valley (about a 30 minute jeep ride from town). Two options exist: a loop hike which is about 12km and a shorter up and back hike (about an hour or so). Both hikes will give you a view of Cocora Valley’s iconic palm trees. The long hike is rumored to be amazing so I am planning on doing the whole loop today.

I start off early today because I know I am a slow hiker. I inform my hotel I am missing breakfast again and they instead provide me a lovely fruit platter and orange juice to take on my journey. I also stop at the shop on the corner to order a coffee, empanada and some other breads to take with me (one being my new addiction of sausage stuffed rolls – these are amazing when they are fresh). I also carry lots of water.

To arrive at the start I hire a jeep from town square in the morning. They say they leave once an hour but they really leave once they fill up. Mine left 15 minutes early. Luckily I showed up early for the 7:30 am ride.

Made sure to note jeep ride times

The jeep drops us off on a dirt road I am assuming is nearby the trail entrance. There is really no instruction of where to start, I just know that I should start “off to the right” for which direction I plan to go. I should have followed the crowd as the jeep emptied but I decide to try to use the nearby restroom before I start my journey. By the time I got out of the restroom there is no one really to ask which way to go.

I wander around for a bit up and back on the dirt road. The entrance I am looking for should be to the right of the road.

view from the road

I look down at maps.me on my phone and I think I discover the correct way to the start.

I chose doing the loop going counter-clockwise to avoid crowds. Also the journey across the waterway is beautiful early in the day and the inclines are more gradual in this direction.

I head down into the valley and I eventually reach the trail entrance where I pay an admission charge and receive a wrist band.

I pass a small bridge and stop to say hi to some cows.

Entrance to first part of the path.

I start my hike trough a narrow trail in the middle of a meadow. There are cow pastures on the sides of the path. Vibrant green grass blankets the meadow. The weather is slightly cool. It is a beautiful day.

At the edge of the meadow I stop and eat my fruit before I carry onto the next part of my journey.

Fruit box from my lovely hotel

I start the stream-jumping section of the path. The second part of the trail is basically a series of rocky paths that wind around a stream with frequent bridge crossings. The bridges get progressively more scary: meaning the further you go the less maintained the bridges seem to be (I read where one called them the Indian Jones bridges).

This is another amazingly beautiful part of the trail. I enjoy hearing the stream of water while I hike.

Leaving the waterway behind I start climbing uphill towards a hummingbird sanctuary, a pit stop on the trail. I intended to visit the sanctuary but the climb is making me tired. I recall the advice I was given from other travelers a couple days ago and decide to turn back and forgo the visit. I have much further to go and I want to make sure I have energy to complete the loop. I did read reviews later that were favorable but nonetheless I am glad I skipped it because the trail continues uphill in the intended direction and I need all the energy I can conserve.

While on the trail I encounter signs of the different wildlife I may see along the way.

I hope I don’t run into one of these guys
Getting closer to the top
Bamboo shaded rest area

The terrain is changing again and I end up on a sandy path. It is challenging and uphill. I hear the sounds of doors creaking in the trees. I look up and see no birds so I can only assume what may be making those sounds.

I finally reach what I understand to be the highest point. I take the slow zig zags uphill. I stop on the bright green meadow “walls” to lay down and rest because it looks so comfortable.

At the top of the switchbacks

At the top there seems to be a café but it looks like they are only serving a specific tour group. It may be private property but they don’t mind that others are hanging around and resting on the nearby benches. I find Finca La Montaña a place to catch my breath and snack on my breads before moving on. I learn later that it is a coffee farm.

I am past the halfway point now I think.
I watch a dog watching people walk downhill (doing the trail loop clockwise)
Finca La Montaña

As I leave Finca La Montaña I walk by quite a few people going in the opposite direction. It appears the Finca La Montaña I have just arrived at is the final spot at top for those doing just the shorter hike. Unfortunately those walking toward the finca look tired since the journey is mostly uphill and it is now the hottest time of day. I chatted with a few hikers caught off guard with the uphill challenge. My hike is challenging as far as inclines go but at least the uphill parts are broken up by horizontal parts. I am excited to learn the rest of my hike will be mostly downhill.

I walk by some lovely tall pine trees.

only 4.2 km to go. mostly downhill from here.

I notice more beautiful views hiking down. Soon I reach another section where someone is collecting admission to the observation area where I can finally view the tall palms – El Bosque de Las Palmas. I receive another wrist band.

This map makes the path look very simple but it didn’t feel very simple while I was hiking.

Downhill path. It is now hot and sunny so I am thankful.

Finally I reach the upper level of the mirador or viewpoint of the lovely palm trees. It is incredibly windy today.

I walk out a down a series of sandy terraces, each giving a distinct viewpoint of the area.

Entrance if you are entering the trail from the opposite direction. Some people just visit this portion of the area and skip the long hike.
Chill out areas with great views
Tried to follow my location via maps.me. Not sure really how helpful it was.

I head back down what I believe is the street I arrived at this morning. I see a meadow where jeeps are parked. This must be where I catch my return trip to town. I wait for a jeep to become available and hop in the back. Luckily I am sitting inside (even though it is crowded) and not hanging off the back like other adventurous travelers.

Ride back into town

The journey today was long and exhausting but it was highly rewarding. I am adding this hike to my list of memorable hikes.

Jardín: Gallitos de Roca (Cock of the Rock)

Where are all my ladies?

This afternoon I am heading to the Parque Natural Jardín de Rocas where I can witness the Gallitos de Roca (rare and unique birds). They come to this reserve looking for female birds to mate with. The English translation is Cock of the Rock (I’ll just leave that there with no further comment).

The reserve is located not to far from the bridge I crossed previously for another hike .

The park doesn’t open until the late afternoon because you will only see the males performing in the early evenings.

The lady who runs the park is very nice. She tells me of all the great places to go for bird observation.

I don’t have to go far because there are already birds hanging out in the tree right next to me.

I find a place along the observation boardwalk and wait.

I am glad I brought my telephoto lens with me because while the birds are close by, they aren’t close enough to get decent photos with the diffused lighting.

We sit quietly and wait for the males to fly in and start singing for a lover. They are loud. I can’t see how the females would be attracted to that but what do I know.

Don’t you think I’m cute???

After viewing the birds I chat with some other travelers outside the preserve. They give me some helpful advice on my next town. The Colombia traveling community is small but very supportive.

I head back into town and have a nice dinner at Óleo Bistró Restaurante.

Tomorrow I head to Salento. I love my time in Jardin and would stay longer but for once I scheduled just the right amount of time in a city. I definitely would not mind returning some day.

Jardín: Hike to Christ

Another day in Jardín (Antioquia, Colombia) so I decide to take another short hike but this time to a Christ statue on a hill.

The town looks beautiful this morning as I head out for my hike.

Where I am going today is up the hill to see the large statue of Jesus (Seen as the little white thing in the photo below).

See the Jesus on the middle left.

The path is straight ahead and not clearly marked. I only know it is the correct path because of website that created a great guide to the area (fortunately I found the link to their website intentional travelers – they are so helpful).

The trail begins as a steep decline downhill on a rock trail. I am glad I am wearing my hiking boots again.

A kitten comes by to greet me before I start my hike.

I don’t really see many others around once again today. Traveling in Colombia is quiet compared to visiting other countries. Normally the isolation would have me worried about my safety but for some reason I feel safe here.

I come to a large moss covered tree. The tree is beautiful and reminds me of home.

I come to a little wooden bridge and cross a stream.

The area around the stream looks like a nice place to picnic during the day.

It is not clearly marked but I notice a rough path going uphill. I am thankful that it is both dry and that I am wearing my hiking boots. The steps are challenging for my shorter legs.

Looking down below. I see other hikers!
Town off in the distance

I arrive to a gate. There is no sign but it is not locked. I open the gate and walk through, hoping I am not tresspassing.

I am at some sort of summit. I stop and take in the views. There are large beautiful black birds flying to and fro.

I walk past banana trees. The path I am on is clearly used but very rough. I see another couple hiking around so I know I am in the right place.

Eventually I arrive to the area that contains the statue. There is a restaurant or café that appears to closed but a gate is ajar. A tour guide has entered into the viewing area with some tourists; I assume since he is there then it is ok to enter. I grab a seat and enjoy the view for a while.

At some point it looks like the owner shows up. I pack up my things in anticipation of getting asked to leave but he doesn’t seem angry we are there. I don’t stay long anyway.

restaurant up top
seating with view of town below
Finally the view, from below it looks like there used to be gondola system. It doesn’t seem to be operational.
A directional sign! Don’t see many of these.

I think there are other trails up here somewhere but I end up just heading back the way I arrived.

Trail goes on? Who knows?
The Moss tree again

It doesn’t take me long to arrive back in town. It is still early so I take the time to visit the inside of the beautiful town church.

I love the tiles and the ceiling colors.

I head back to my hotel to freshen up and rest. I’ll head out later to see some birds at dusk. More on that later.

Jardín: La Garrucha Overlook

Town of Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

Feb 12, 2020

Photos of wandering around town this morning…

Today I start out late as usual. I have good intentions to leave early and take pictures around town but it doesn’t really happen. I do wake up early but actually leaving the hotel at an early hour seems impossible. I order the fresh breakfast at the hotel – it is quite filling. I gather up my laundry and find local laundromat since my dirty things have been piling up. After dropping off my laundry I start heading towards the trail that I plan to hike today.

For today’s walk I have maps.me and a PDF file on my phone from a blogger who is done a similar hike (there is no good “tourist guide”).

I head to a restaurant to order a sandwich to take on the way. I like to carry a sandwich to be able to stop and eat when I get tired of walking. I find this town has a way of humbling me when it comes to my knowledge of Spanish. Ordering the sandwich is awkward but I eventually put in the order in for a ham and cheese sandwich. Once my sandwich is ready I grab a soda and I’m ready to go.

The hike today is up to La Garrucha where there is a cable car station (I can take the cable car from town and forgo the hike if I want to). The cable car looks suspect (pictures later) so I hike to the lookout by taking the path starting at the yellow bridge at the edge of town.

Once I cross the bridge the beautiful views are non-stop at this point.

The road turns to the right and I start walking uphill. It is pretty warm in the sun so I start my sweating as usual. There are also not any directional signs so I follow maps.me and the advice from the blog.

Mini-yellow bridge with statue
Looks like a covered area for banana harvesters

After a while I catch my first sight of coffee plants. There is a good amount of coffee grown here but the next town I visit is when I will visit a finca (coffee plantation).

Soon I notice that coffee and bananas are companion plants.

These signs were no help at all.

Finally I make it to the overlook where I order a coffee at the café and take in the view.

I watch as others take the trip on the cablecar.

I debate taking the cable back down because I am tired from the uphill trip. I chat with some tourists who walked up in the other direction and they tell me the way back is all downhill since we are at the top. The return trip isn’t entirely downhill but yes it is mostly downhill.

The road back contains farms and residences.

I pass by a charming homestay where musicians are playing music outside.

I pass farms and smell the distinct smell of marijuana. I don’t see anyone around so perhaps it is far away.

I come across a field of wooden crosses. Not sure their purpose.

Some switch backs on the road going down hill

I end up passing by a ecological park or homestay (Eco Parque Camino De Piedra).

I come across this beautiful door which I later learn leads to a tunnel that offers private tours.

I cross a bridge and soon after is a stream. People who have taken a horseback tour of the area tie their horses outside a restaurant and take a dip in the water. I sit here and finally eat the sandwich I have brought with me on today’s journey.

After my rest I continue on to where I find a mini-waterfall.

It doesn’t take me long until I reach the short trail that leads me back to town, passing colorful places on the way.

I head back into town and treat myself to a beer and a large dinner.

I seriously love this town.