Luray Caverns, Virginia

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The first time I ever went into an actual under-the-ground cave, I was about nine years old and living overseas with my family. I was absolutely fascinated by the inner workings of our earth.  Stalactites and stalagmites? Yes, please! So, when passing by Luray Caverns in Virginia while on a road trip recently, I took the opportunity to head below ground.

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I first visited Luray Caverns when I was a child.  I remember being awed by the large underground rooms and the strange, damp smell that was everywhere.  On my most recent descent into the caverns, everything came right back to me – it’s so cool to revisit a place you haven’t been to in such a long time!

The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and even have lots of great little puns and jokes to keep you plenty entertained while below the Earth’s surface. Luray Caverns have a few stand-out features including an underground musical instrument, “Pluto’s Ghost,” “fried eggs,” an underground lake, and a host of other unique cavern attractions.

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There is just something almost magical about being below the ground and seeing the beauty that is inside the Earth. We work so hard to make gorgeous buildings and landscapes, but Earth does a pretty good job of that all on its own.

There are a host of other attractions at the caverns, too, including lots for kids and families. Upon ascending to the “outside world,” I was able to catch a picture of the mountains before the lower clouds rolled in. It’s a beautiful sight!

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If you ever find yourself near Luray, Virginia, definitely take the time to see the caverns, there! It’s a sight worth seeing!!

sarahheart

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Corn Mazes and Apple Cider!

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Autumn is the perfect time for some outdoor adventuring. The temperature isn’t too cold, the air is brisk and refreshing, the trees turn magnificent colors – it’s wonderful! I have always enjoyed fall hikes through the mountains, corn mazes, and apple picking and this year has been no different!

I daytripped out to gorgeous small town with cute cafes, antiques stores, and a farm that was perfect for some fall festivities!  After a wonderful organic lunch of fig, apple, and brie cheese and a hot panini at The Robin’s Nest, it was on to Stony Hill Farm Market.

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Stony Hill Farm is home to a number of fun autumn activities to partake in.  There are hay rides, corn mazes, rope mazes, gemstone mining (for the kids!), apple picking (at their second location), photo spots, and yummy donuts and delicious cider to enjoy.  I grabbed a hot cup of apple cider and a yummy apple cider donut before heading into the giant corn maze!

The corn maze has a number of activities to complete while inside the maze itself. I focused primarily on finding my way and enjoying the sights from the bridges that place you above the maze itself while crossing, offer great views of the maze and surrounding trees.

With the clocks having rolled back an extra hour recently, the sun began to set incredibly early, casting a glowing, golden light over the corn field.  Looking around, it was impossible not to feel warm and happy 🙂

sarahheart

Flying in a 1930 Biplane

Since dating the son of a pilot, my life has become much more steeped in aircraft, planes, and general aviation.  I have always liked planes – they’re pretty cool, after all, and a huge part of my travels! This past weekend, I had an incredible aviation experience unlike any other.  I was invited to come along on a photo shoot that focused on military veterans after their service.  The veterans participating in the shoot fly vintage biplanes from the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Bayport Aerodrome on Long Island, New York.  Needless to say, it was like aviation heaven!

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The shots for the photo shoot required being in the air, naturally, and I was fortunate enough to score an open seat with one of the pilots going up.  I have never before been in a biplane and wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was positively one of the best experiences ever!  I enjoy “regular” commercial planes quite a bit but this biplane experience took my enjoyment and appreciation of airplanes to new heights (pun intended).

The photographers for the shoot and the pilots discussed formations and directions for what to do in the air – many of the planes do not have radios to communicate to each other, so knowing what to do ahead of time was crucial. Afterward, it was time to jump into the planes!  A wonderful gentleman offered to take me up in his beautiful green biplane from 1930 during the airborne photo shoot – I was very excited!  I sat in the front seat and he piloted from the rear seat. I donned a flying cap with headphones and a mic, and off we went toward the runway!

The runway itself was a grass strip.  The planes all lined up for takeoff and, before I knew it, it was my turn to head down the runway! The propeller spun furiously and we quickly gained speed before finally lifting off the ground.  It was such a bizarre yet incredible sensation! For a few minutes, I had that feeling you get while free falling on a roller coaster – I kept waiting for gravity to kick in and to feel some sort of steadiness or balance (like you do on a large commercial plane), but it never came.  Instead, I quickly adjusted to the bouncing of the small craft and the wonderful experience of truly feeling like I was flying (compared to a larger, commercial plane where you know you are flying but you don’t necessarily feel it). The whole time while in the air, I couldn’t stop smiling.

We flew out over Long Island and then over the water toward Fire Island.  The planes circled the lighthouse on the island a couple times for the photos and then my pilot flew me out over the beach, did some quick turns, and was able to really show me what the plane could do!  It was pretty windy up there, especially since the cockpits are open-topped, and a little cold, too, but nowhere near as cold as I had imagined it being.  After some time flying around up in the air, we turned and headed back toward the airfield.

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Landing the plane went much more smoothly than I had envisioned it in my mind.  I had anticipated a bumpy and rocky landing, but my pilot put the plane down gently and with ease back onto the grass runway – a sign of great skill and experience!  My only complaint was that I had to exit the plane when we were finished.  I wanted to keep flying!

After the flight, I perused the old planes in the hangars.  One was especially stunning – a black and blue WACO biplane.  The man who owned it asked if I’d like to sit in it, so I did! My cousin captured a great shot:

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Photo by B. A. Van Sise

I am so grateful to have been able to experience such a fantastic flight. Flying in a vintage biplane has only strengthened my love for flying and appreciation for aviation!

 

sarahheart

 

Girls Love Travel NYC Meetup

Less than a year ago, the incredible and wonderful online community called Girls Love Travel was founded. Using Facebook as its platform, Girl Love Travel brings women young and old and from all corners of the world together to share and discuss travel and adventure stories, information, and general positivity.  I’ve been with the community from the very start and am so beyond excited to see it grow (our logo is now a registered trademark! Crazy!). While Girls Love Travel functions mostly online, we do have in-person interaction, too. I first met the founder of Girls Love Travel, Haley Woods, last January at a small meetup in Orlando, where we went to Disney World and had SO much fun!  It was a pleasure to be able to meet up with even more women from the community this past weekend at an event in New York City!

Girls Love Travel organizes events and meetups around the globe as a way for women to connect through travel.  A large meetup was held in Los Angeles not too long ago and, after the success of that west coast event, we decided to have one on the east coast, too.  Last Saturday, we meet up in Brooklyn for a fantastic afternoon of drinks, friends, story telling, and overall fun!!

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I arrived a little early since I live (relatively) nearby.  I took a train into Long Island City, Queens, and walked over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn, where our event was being held.  Our venue was a fabulous rooftop with views of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.  It was stunning!

I checked in upon arrival and immediately headed to the merch table – there are so many great goodies to be had! The red tank top with our logo had been catching my eye for quite some time, so I was happy to make a purchase.  Not long after, more and more women showed up and the event was really underway!

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We feasted on yummy sandwiches, caprese appetizers, fruit, desserts, and gulped down some Hubert’s Lemonade, wine, and cocktails.  People floated around and exchanged incredible travel stories, divulged travel tips and info, and just got to know one another.  I was so happy to meet a bunch of women who happen to live within walking distance of me.  Girls Love Travel has a great way of bringing people together!

There was a raffle that included a bunch of prizes, a photo shoot for our upcoming 100,000 member milestone, and goodie bags! It was such a fun afternoon that no one wanted to leave – I helped organize an “after outing” with some of the girls in Queens that eventually landed us in Manhattan later that night.  A group of us enjoyed the sunset from Hunter’s Point Park and then took the East River Ferry into the City.  Drinks and dinner at Joshua Tree rounded out the night!

Seriously, it was an incredible day.  I met so many amazing women, shared information, stories, and laughs, and just had so much fun with everyone! There’s definitely a unique bond that Girls Love Travel creates among its members.  If you’re a female who loves adventure and travel, or are even just interested in getting started with travel, check out our facebook page! There’s so much to read about and explore there!

 

Happy travels!

sarahheart

 

Baby Gators and Thunderstorms

Over the years, I’ve written a number of blog posts recounting my adventures at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida.  It’s an absolute favorite spot of mine and, on most visits, I am usually blown away by the fantastic wildlife sightings and encounters I have there (especially during the more active gator season!).  When I first moved to Florida a few years ago, I thought my hiking days were pretty much over – I was used to hiking mountain ridges and dense forests and Florida didn’t really have any of that.  But Circle B Bar Reserve has proved to be one of my favorite hiking places of all time.  On my penultimate trip there (…I recently moved house and no longer live near it! So sad!!) I got to see some baby alligators, got super close to some wildlife, and outran an incredible thunderstorm. Of course, I took pictures 😉

When I arrived at Circle B, I immediately noticed the posted signs indicating that the major trail, Alligator Alley, was closed.  There wasn’t a specific reason given for the closures, but my assumption is that it had to perhaps do with the many alligators and sightings there recently.  With the main trail closed, I decided to just head up the trail that leads to it, which fortunately still offers incredible views and opportunities for wildlife spotting.

The trail I walked up sits in the middle of a large wetland area.  I had my infamous massive-gator-encounter here (see the gator here!) and was hoping to actually see another.  There weren’t any large gators this time, but I did spot a number of baby ones! So cute!

It was gorgeous and sunny as I headed down the trail in hopes of some more wildlife sightings, as evidenced by this lovely photo here (lol):

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Perfect skies, perfect temperature! It was seriously gorgeous.  I continued my way down the trail and even explored part of the Alligator Alley trail until I was met with the closed-off area and warnings not to dare attempt entering it (which I did not).  I did, though, make friends with a brave and fearless squirrel!

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After becoming acquainted with my new squirrel friend, I began making my way back and, for the first time, noticed how extremely dark it had gotten.  The sky was no longer a beautiful and clear blue, but a dark and storm grey.  Thunder sounded in the distance.  I was standing in an open wetland… So I booked it back to my car.

The storm that rolled through was impressive.  The wind gusted so hard, Spanish moss rained down from the trees and large branches fell to the ground.  I had a hard time keeping to the center of the trail as I headed back, the wind was that strong!

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I made it back to my car just before it started down-pouring.  The whole experience was a reminder of just how powerful mother nature can be, and how quickly a really nice day can turn really dangerous in a matter of minutes (weather in Florida is so fascinating this way!).

So, although my hike didn’t include my favorite trail and was cut short by the extreme weather, it was still an eventful and worthwhile adventure! I’ll certainly miss you, Circle B!

sarahheart