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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Trip to Kuju

Erika and I finally had some time to do some exploring. We decided to visit Kuju which is about 1.5 hours from Tsukahara. We’ve always wanted to take a look and since there was no snow, why not? We planned on taking the entire day to see what the Kuju area had to offer. We were not disappointed!

Our first stop was just outside of Yufuin. There is an overlook that offers some fantastic views of the Yufuin Basin. My favorite volcano is right there in the middle of the view.

After several more stops (we averaged a stop every 10 minutes), we found a nice spot for the doggies to run around.

The skies looked like they were going to dump some snow, but the weather held and eventually the sun appeared.

We continued to follow the Yamanami Highway until we reached the intersection that took us to the longest suspension bridge in Japan. Since the dogs were not allowed to cross, we didn’t either. This place was a little too “touristy” for us. We took some pictures and we were on our way.

Ten minutes later, we stopped at an intersection that had a horse and carriage statue. We walked down a small road until we reached an inn that offered some old, abandoned railroad cars as a place to stay. I think if they gave the railroad cars a coat of bright red paint they might attract more customers.

Another 10 minutes and we found ourselves in front of a sign indicating that we are in Aso Kuju National Park. The park extends past our home in Tsukahara.

The real treat was a hidden trail located near the Aso Kuju sign. Great, another dog walking opportunity! The view was amazing! Tsukahara and Kuju differ mainly because Kuju is a mountain range. The average elevation is 300 meters higher than Tsukahara. We were really lucky that there was snow only on the higher peaks.

After spending about 30 minutes walking and taking photos, we jumped back in the car and traveled another 2 minutes…maybe 3 minutes. We pulled into the Chojabaru Visitor Center and ate lunch.

The area is populated with many trails and several consist of boardwalks that go on forever. The boardwalks are there to protect the bogs and fragile plant life.

There are plenty of information signs along the trails.

The waterfall and stream are too acidic to support any fish. I suspect the acid comes from the bogs and the hot springs.

We were fortunate to beat the holiday rush. There we very few tourists.

The sun peeked through the clouds and the doggies celebrated by rolling in the grass.

That’s a happy Jack Russell!

This is a tribute to a very famous guide dog.

Continuing on our journey, we crossed into Kumamoto (the other side of the Kuju mountain range). I was very surprised to find a vineyard at such a high elevation. They grow 5 varieties of grapes. The wines are mostly whites and Merlot.

To cope with the frigid temperatures, each vine is covered with a plastic sheet. It must be labor intensive to take care of a vineyard at an elevation of 1000 meters.

The vines are about 12 years old.

We were very lucky. The restaurant at the winery allows dogs. Yeah! 

Another good thing...a "Home Sweet Home" welcome sign.

The ribs and pizza were good.

Not sure why the USA and Canada flags were flying.

One last look at the winery and restaurant.

The region is located on a high plateau. If you look closely, you can see Mount Aso in the background. This volcano is active and it recently erupted.

On our way back we stopped at a view point to walk the doggies. We walked along a ridge of the Kuju mountain range. It was freezing, but no snow. We couldn't stay for long as we needed to get back to Yufuin before nightfall. 

It was a great trip! I highly recommend visiting Aso Kuju National Park. The roads are excellent and the scenery is spectacular. It's close enough to our home that I'm sure we will visit again in the near future. Happy New Year!    George

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