Abrams Falls is a popular short hike located on the western side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. To get there, you must drive along the Cades Cove Loop, which can take a very long time, with estimates of about 2-4 hours of driving to complete the loop. The hike is described as moderate intensity and about five miles round trip, or 2.5 miles each way. The waterfall is about 20-feet tall, broad, and absolutely gorgeous in person. The pictures do not do the waterfall justice. The hike is popular not only because it is a shorter hike but also (or mostly) because the falls have created a natural swimming pool and wading area that’s shallow and refreshing after the up-and-down hike to get there.
Cades Cove is an 11-mile loop in Great Smoky Mountain National park that can be driven or bicycled. I heartily recommend bicycling the loop for those who are able to do so. The trek is more enjoyable, and you don’t have to worry about parking should you want to stop to explore any of the historic cabins, larger homes, mills, churches or barns (and you absolutely should want to stop!). Many of the historic buildings are adjacent to the loop. A few are within a short hike from the loop; the farthest was about a half mile, and the trek was absolutely worth it to me!
Before we loaded up our rental van, I was on the verge of tears. Big tears. I didn’t even want to go on vacation. I wanted to hide in my bedroom, shut the door, and cry, cry, cry followed by a weeklong bout of sleep. I was hardly in the state of mind to begin a two-week vacation with my beloved husband, our two foster kiddos, and Marmy the Motoring Marmot. July has been a stressful wreck in-between all the work, both professional and educational, and other life changes.
One of my dear friends called me and said, “I have a crazy idea. You can totally say no.” She then asked my husband and me to come visit for the weekend to help out with a Latin club event on a Friday. Instead of saying no, we packed up the car, hauled along my husband’s student teacher, bribed our foster kiddo in the trip with the promise of visiting a horse show, and drove 13 hours to Atlanta. Yep, we drove 26 hours over the long President’s Day weekend and missed a day of work or classes each to help out with a Latin event and then sightsee in Atlanta. Totally crazy. Definitely nerds.
The border between Boquillas, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park reopened in April 2013. We hadn’t heard of Boquillas until we visited the park, which was several months after the border had reopened. Boquillas del Carmen is a small city of over 200 hundred people. The town began as a mining village in the 1800s when the Sierra del Carmen were actively mined for silver and iron. You can see evidence of the mining operations on the Marufo Vega trail, and the mining was in its heyday during the early 1900s. Then, the town’s numbers began to dwindle until the establishment of Big Bend National park in the 1944. Much of the town’s economy is dependent on tourism from border crossings.
The South Rim in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park is our favorite site at any national park that we’ve visited to date, and we’ve certainly traveled to many a beautiful place. We often describe it as being on top of the Grand Canyon, except there’s no other side and no people. You’re on the edge of a steep cliff looking out over the desert floor and mountainous topography thousands of feet beneath you. Breathtaking. Majestic. Inspirational. Desolate. All these words, and so much more. The first time we camped on the rim, we spent a glorious hour watching two golden eagles soar and plummet and glide through the desert below. When we planned our trip to Big Bend, it was no wonder that we decided to stay on the rim for Christmas and the first nights of Chanukah. We didn’t exchange presents or light any menorahs, but the days were festive enough being in our favorite place.
I’ve wanted to hike the Marufo Vega Trail in Big Bend National Park each of the last three times I’ve been to the park. Marufo Vega (MV) is a 14-mile loop that I can now say is the hardest trail that I’ve ever hiked. To me, MV is more challenging than the Hermit’s Rest Trail in the Grand Canyon, a notoriously challenging trail that is unmaintained whereas MV is a maintained one. Maybe my memory of that trail is too remote, but MV is not forgiving. You climb 1,000 feet up, descend 1,000 feet, climb 1,000 feet, and descend it again, all in a 14-mile trail that has no shade, no water, and a gazillion spiny things. As unforgiving as the hike is, the hike is equally memorable and remarkable for its scenic beauty.