Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Georgia: Hiking the Trails Down to Hemlock Falls and Cherokee Falls

I was born and raised in Fort Payne, Alabama in the 1980s and 90s. My dad’s side of the family lived just an hour on the other side of Lookout Mountain; near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At least half a dozen times each year, we would drive to see that side of the family for get-togethers. A little past halfway of the trip, I would always notice a brown government sign advertising Cloudland Canyon State Park; just 3 miles to the left.

But being that we already lived next to the Little River Canyon Preserve and DeSoto State Park, we were already quite exposed to the Alabama side of Lookout Mountain’s natural wonders.

So as a kid, I never visited Cloudland Canyon State Park. It wasn’t until 3 years ago when I took my 5 year-old son (at the time), that I finally realized how awesome that place is.

Last weekend during Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to take a fun backroads Jeep ride with my now 8 year-old son and my dad.

We had heard you could hike down in the the canyon and check out some waterfalls.

And is exactly what we did.

It had the appeal of a theme park… except, it is an actual real park.

One of the highlights for my son is when we he was able to catch a crayfish at the bottom of one of the waterfalls.

Granted, this isn’t a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a 2 mile hike, but it’s straight down… and then you still have to hike back up.

But I am already looking forward to going back!

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The Weekend of My 20th High School Class Reunion: A Pedicure with My Wife, Contrasted by Almost Seriously Getting My Jeep Stuck in a Deep Mud Puddle!

After waiting 5 years since my last high school reunion, when unfortunately my wife couldn’t make it due to being in California at the time, I was so glad that she and I could go out on a date to my 20th high school reunion.

My wife came to my 10th high school reunion back in 2009; we were still technically newlyweds at the time:

And because of that, many of my classmates got to know her pretty well.

For the day of my 20th high school reunion, my sister and her husband volunteered to watch our kids the whole day (and night) so that we could really make the most of it.

So we started the day off right by going down to The Spa in Rainsville; where we both got pedicures.

(Last month while we were on family vacation, my wife took me along for a pedicure and I admit- I didn’t hate it. So I was open to the idea of going back.)

My wife jokes that I have “Berenstain Bear” toenails. She’s pretty much right. I need all the help I can get with it comes to my toes.

But afterwards, to balance things out, we took the Jeep out on the mud trails.

Now that I have been really putting the 4 wheel drive capabilities to the test, I have been heavily considering dropping a few hundred dollars to purchase a winch to put on my bumper; giving me the ability to pull myself out of mud.

Our most recent excursion, this past weekend, got us stuck in a puddle that was higher than the tires. Even with the Jeep already being in 4 wheel drive, I didn’t have enough power to drive myself out.

The Jeep was noticeably tilting to my side. It wasn’t a crazy thought that we might turn over into the deeper-than-I-realized mud water; basically a mini-pond.

Fortunately, my dad was sitting right next to me in the passenger seat, and told me to try putting it in reverse.

At this point, I knew not even to look to my left out the window, knowing that the muddy water had to be pretty close to reaching the glass.

I prayed: “God, please help us get out of here!”

The Lord answered my desperate and humble prayer.

But for the rest of my life, I will always look back at this event as nothing short of miraculous. That story could have very easily ended much differently:

With the Jeep being stuck there, miles from civilization; easily being an all-day event to get pulled out.

Thank God, though- we were delivered from the pit and no permanent damage was done to my Jeep; which is our officially family vehicle that I take the kids to school in every day and the vehicle that we take out of town trips in.

My dad happens to be the real life version of MacGyver. He had to figure out how to reattach the front mud guard under the bumper. It was a complicated task, but he was able to restore it back to normal.

(I still need to clean up the mud that started oozing through the drain holes in the floor of my Jeep, though!)

So when it comes to taking my prized possession in to the unpredictable muddy trails, I’m pretty sure I officially got this out of my system.

I’m a person who truly lives without fear. I don’t get anxious or nervous, and I definitely don’t get scared.

But in that pivotal moment of being helplessly stuck worse than I had ever been before, I was terrified!

I think I am going to retire from driving back on those trails- and just to be safe, I think I will still purchase the winch anyway!

As for the high school reunion, it just couldn’t have gone better! It was so well planned and we had a really good turn out.

I was happy to see how many people remembered my wife. It almost felt like she actually graduated high school with the rest of us; it felt so natural. (She also graduated high school in 1999; just on the other side of the country in Sacramento.)

Catching up with friends who have known me my entire life was such a rewarding experience. It was funny, at one point when we had our class picture taken, we were directed:

“Just stand next to who you normally do in these pictures!”

Sure enough, it was the same guys as it was in high school and our other reunions. We make up the section, “Guys who are the same height as the tall girls, but guys who aren’t necessarily considered short.”

For me, I care so much about my high school class reunions, they are truly a highlight of my life every 5 years. I really love the group of people I was fortunate enough to grow up with in the 1980s and 1990s.

The next morning for lunch, my wife and I were reunited with our kids, who thoroughly enjoyed their slumber party with their cousins the night before.

After a hearty lunch at Fontana’s, we made the 3 hour drive back to Tennessee. Our daughter was asleep by the time we made it to the interstate.

This weekend was just perfect. It will remain one of the best memories of my life.

I was surrounded by people I love and care about and have known a very long time.

That is what makes life good.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to read my blog post about my 20th high school reunion this past weekend, here’s your chance again.

Our 11th Wedding Anniversary: A Muddy Jeep Wrangler Ride and a Quaint Meal Out in My Hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama

After staying overnight as a family at the Hilton, I walked across the parking lot to work Friday morning; which was our actual 11th wedding anniversary. Then once I put in my 8 hours, we drove a quick 3 hours to my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama to spend our anniversary weekend.

Quite predictably, we went out Saturday morning to go looking for trouble in the Jeep, which we found a little too easily.

With the top off, we embarked on an unmarked dirt road full of questionable mud puddles. I didn’t consider that the mud will inevitably end up getting slung off the tires and inside the Jeep.

I was especially proud of the blob of mud that landed on the dashboard, right next to my hand on the steering wheel. My plan was to keep it there pretty much permanently, but with the hot July sun, it didn’t take too long to dry, harden, and fall off after a few more bumps in the Jeep.

That evening, my wife and I had the rare privilege of having free babysitters (family, of course!) to watch and feed our kids while we disappeared for a solid four hours.

My sister had suggested a mom-and-pop Mediterranean place called Fontana’s. It was exactly what we were looking for, but didn’t realize existed. It was the epitome of the word quaint; and therefore it was perfect.

I am already looking forward to going back there next weekend when we are back in town for my 20th high school reunion, which will be held just down the street from the restaurant.

So there you go. That’s the best way for a husband and wife to spend their 11th wedding anniversary.

Maybe one day we’ll go somewhere without the kids. But honestly, as long as the kids are young, we might as well let them have some fun too!

Our 11th Wedding Anniversary Staycation in Franklin, Tennessee at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs Hotel

What’s the best way for you and your spouse to celebrate your 11th wedding anniversary? Clearly, with your two kids at the Hilton right next to the building where you work.

At least, that was the case for me.

So I was able to just leave my Jeep right there in the parking lot and walk over to the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs hotel to spend July 4th with my family for the holiday- and for my wife and I to officially celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary; which was actually on July 5th.

We also arranged for our close friends Mohamad and Lena, along with their daughter who is our own daughter’s age, to stay on the same hall.

When it came time to decide where to go out for dinner, there weren’t a whole lot of restaurants open on the July 4th holiday; so naturally, we chose House of India. My wife and I loved it so much we decided we will definitely go back when it is just the two of us.

As a 38 year-old man, I just don’t end up in a swimming pool much these days. However, on July 4th in Tennessee, it gets so hot that if you’re going to be outside for any reason, it better be because you’re in a swimming pool.

I forgot how much fun swimming in a pool can be, especially when you’re entertaining kids.

Adjacent to the Executive Lounge (where I ended up having breakfast the next morning), there is huge deck where you can see all the way to Nashville in one direction, and all the way to Spring Hill where we actually live, in the other.

So for our 4th of July fireworks show, we had quite the view!

Staying at the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs hotel was definitely the right call for us on July 4th!

And for our actual anniversary on July 5th, we made our way to my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama; where my wife and I actually had a night out by ourselves.

Stay tuned for the other half of this story…

Dear Jack: You Get to Be the Boy in the Back Seat of a Jeep with the Top Off

8 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack,

Every father wants his son to be able to have an amazing, adventurous childhood that he will be able to think back on with gratitude.

I am aware that I am helping to create your childhood; for better or worse.

Undeniably, since we got the Jeep Wrangler about a month and a half ago, it has been obvious you have been having a good time in it.

Yes, it’s true that the Jeep is a toy for me. But it’s a toy that I can to share with you.

You get to be the boy in the back seat of a Jeep with the top off.

I’m pretty sure that leads to a childhood you will appreciate now while you’re still a kid, and for the rest of your life as an adult.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Holly: You Fell Asleep in the Back Seat of the Jeep with the Top Off!

3 years, 1 month.

Dear Holly,

I sort of envy your ability to fall asleep anywhere, at anytime, in any environment.

As for me, I have to mentally know that I have no pending responsibilities for the rest of the day. Once I’m asleep, I want to stay asleep until the sun comes back up.

But you recently proved that after an hour of a fun Jeep ride alongside Little River Canyon, you need a little nap to recharge for any upcoming fun.

So to my surprise, you feel asleep in the back seat of my Jeep Wrangler: with the top off, the wind blowing, and the sun shining down on you.

Good thing Mommy put sunscreen on you beforehand!

Love,

Daddy

2010 Jeep Wrangler JK Sport to the Nashville Zoo with the Kids

It is exactly 30 miles from our garage to the Nashville Zoo; which really isn’t bad for such a great source of family entertainment.

Somehow though, it’s been a solid two years since our family has journeyed down there.

But as I’ve mentioned before, now that we have a Jeep Wrangler as our family weekend vehicle, suddenly anywhere we go is not only more exciting, but also worth the journey.

Despite being an SUV, the JK series of the Jeep Wrangler doesn’t have much storage capacity. However, I was still have to squeeze in the double stroller in the back, which made things much easier for my wife and I to shuttle the kids across the Nashville Zoo. It takes a solid 3 hours of constantly moving if you want to see all the animals.

We actually started off our visit to the Nashville Zoo with my son and and my wife (Jack and Jill) finally getting to try out the Soaring Eagle.

Check out the quick video I made of their ride…

As the population of Nashville continues to rapidly grow, so does the number of exhibits at the Nashville Zoo. For example, I don’t remember there being rhinos the last time we were there…

But as you can see from these pictures from this weekend…

There was a lot to see and do…

And we were so exhausted, Mommy and Daddy took a nap when we got home…

Even if our kids didn’t.