COVID-19 Disclosure: All travel was done within a personal vehicle. Only accommodations cleaned daily were booked. Experiences consisted of outdoor, socially distant activities and masks were worn when doing essential activities, like filling gas or getting food.

At 3:00 AM, our alarms started blaring. No, there wasn’t a fire; we were going on a sunrise hike. Brewing a giant pot of coffee, we began shoving our belongings in our bags as fast as we could, so the sun wouldn’t beat us to the peak. Heading out of our room at Cliff House Inn, I had a laugh as I spotted our neighbor sitting outside with a big bottle of wine. There really are two types of people [and I am both]. However, I can’t really blame her, as she watched the heat lightning break apart the sky over the cliffs–it really was quite the view. And if that wine tasted anything like that view looked, then she must have been having a wonderful morning.

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Early Morning Visitor

It was about an hour drive to Whitaker Point and that drive was anything but smooth. We found ourselves slamming on the brakes about every five minutes as deer, rabbits and U.R.A.’s (unidentifiable running animals) took their jolly strides in front of our zooming vehicle. Little did we know, this was the least of our problems for the morning. Turning the corner, we met our uphill battle face to face.

“Oh my god. This car is not meant for this!!” Julie screamed as the car accelerated, slipping back and forth over the loosened rocks in the steep hill.

“The higher the risk, the higher the reward!” I shouted back, persuading her to keep going.

Our wheels were now spinning as if they were characters running on Scooby Doo and we winced as the large rocks shot off the tires and into the bottom of the car. There are three ways a broken down car would play out up here:

  1. Gravity makes its move, dumping the vehicle off the cliff.
  2. We sit and wait for a generous civilian to drive through these barren roads and give us a lift to the nearest mechanic.
  3. We walk miles in the pitch black forest until our phones pick up some sort of signal to call for help.

Thankfully, we did not have to make any decisions this morning as our car slowly, but surely rolled up to the trailhead. This is where our next P.O.T.D. (problem of the day) arose. We couldn’t find the trail! Shuffling around in the pitch black darkness with our little iPhone flashlights, I finally spotted a sign that read “Whitaker Point →” Aha! We headed across the street and found a small opening which honestly just looked like a deer trail.

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Joplin BTS

However, we’d come all this way, so I was not about to give up. We began to make our way through the thick woods and quickly came along a small river. After a few minutes, we found the trail again on the opposite bank. Marching through the forest, Julie’s foot suddenly caught under a root and she fell, face first into the Earth. Her body skidded across the dirt and from her out-stretched hand rolled her water bottle. Everything played out in slow motion–it was very dramatic. At this point, I was thinking. “Oh god, I barely made it this far as it is, now I have to carry Julie out on my way too?”

Thankfully, she had a quick recovery and we were able to continue making our way to the lookout point. Until, we weren’t. As we descended down an even steeper hill, the trail suddenly disappeared. Or, rather, it turned into about five different questionable paths. I scrounged around in the deep woods frantically trying to find a reliable trail before the sun beat down on us. A toad hopped onto my foot and I jumped back as a white mouse scuttled across a fallen log in front of me.

Oh man, we were really deep in this forest. As the guessing game became less of a where’s-the-trail and more of a where’s-the-car, we reluctantly headed back down the way we’d come, through the slim path, over the river and down the rocky cliff. This sunrise hike was, if you will, an absolute fail. However, I don’t regret this early morning adventure because I can’t help but laugh out loud every time I so much as think about it.

Today we were leaving Arkansas, swooping back through Missouri and landing in Kanas for the night. With all of that driving, it was only fit to make a few pit stops along the way.

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Grand Falls

Our first destination was Grand Falls in Joplin, Missouri. I was really excited about this one because I’d been practicing my long exposure shots and was hoping to see some nice rapids in order to fully display this, which, as you can see, I definitely found at Grand Falls.

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Turkey Vulture at Weston Bend

Weston Bend was our next adventure. It was a gorgeous day for this hike, as the sun was beaming and the birds were chirping. We did a quick four mile hike around the river’s edge while soaking in the peacefulness of the nature. This was a very large park with wide trails, which made social distancing quite easy.

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Hikers at Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve

This was the same case with the next park we proceeded on to, Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve. This is a monstrous park, spanning over 10,000 acres. The views on their trails were, of course, gorgeous, but my favorite part was seeing all of the bison. It’s calving season now, so all these little calves were out and about, exploring their new worlds. We hiked a few miles here before finally making our way to our home for the night in Alma, Kansas.

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Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve

I was really excited for this AirBnb because we were the first guests to ever stay here! We had the entire basement to ourselves and, though it was newly renovated, you could tell this little place had a lot of history. Built in the 1800s, the building had been pretty much everything in the books from shoe stores to paint stores. Now, our host had made the upstairs into a yoga studio for the community. It was absolutely lovely and such a small town that, when we asked for recommendations, we were answered with, “Oh, there’s a bakery…but I don’t think she’s open on Sundays.” You could tell everybody knew everybody and had their own role in the little town of Alma, Kansas.

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Weston Bend Flowers

Since everything was in walking distance, we decided on the Mexican Restaurant across the street for dinner. On our way, we spotted a sign for the tour’s fundraising to get a slide in the city’s swimming pool, showing that they’re halfway to their goal. This was such a sweet little spot to stop in and one of the most peaceful homes to rest in, as we closed our eyes after a Freedom Writers Netflix session (highly recommend). We’ll have to come back again to visit one day when the bakery, winery and local cheese factory are open. See you soon, Alma!

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