Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Quick Look At Our New Home

We are now living in our new home.  Of course, things are far from the way we want them to be, but we feel good about the progress being made.

We're in the middle of a 3-unit building

Thursday, we brought the motor home over to the condo to “unload”.  Basically, we only moved our clothes and personal items and left all the kitchen stuff.  Since we will continue to RV, we wanted it set up to travel a few days each month throughout the year.  It was amazing how much we had to move since we felt like we were leaving everything in the RV.

The condo is relatively new--built in 2006.  It has 1277 sq. ft. which seems huge compared to the 300 and 400 sq. ft. we have been living in for so long.  It has two bedrooms and two full baths, a living room, dining room, and kitchen.  There is a small laundry room and a one-car garage.  Through French doors off the dining room is a small patio.  A row of evergreens separates us from our backdoor neighbors on the next street.  There are only 31 units in the complex on three streets all of which are dead ends.  There is no thru traffic so it’s a very quiet neighborhood.

Peanut has been confused, but is adjusting.
One of the main selling points for us was its handicapped accessibility.   The condo is all on one level.  There’s not a step in sight.  There are not even steps at the doors leading outside, only weather stripping to step over.  We’re good to go when we have those hip and knee replacements.  All the doors are wide to allow passage of wheelchairs and walkers.  All the countertops are high, so there’s less bending over.  Of course, for my short legs, there’s no bending at all.  My back is lovin’ this.  The master bath has a shower only, no tub, with hand holds and seats.

With all these features geared toward an elderly population, you can guess what our neighbors are like.  That’s right--retirees.  And a very friendly group of retirees, too.  Sorta reminds me of an Escapee’s park.  Our next door neighbor brought over cucumbers from his garden this morning.  The lady across the street has already invited us to her home for “game days” this fall.

Our furniture was delivered on Friday.  We bought the bare essentials and will fill in as we have more time to shop.  Knoxville Wholesale Furniture had some pretty nice pieces for reasonable prices.  Still, it didn’t take long to run through $10K.  We’ve made numerous trips to Target, Walmart, Lowes, and various other stores for all that other stuff--bedding, dishes, cookware, trash cans, toilet brushes, alarm clocks, lamps, everything needed to set up housekeeping.

I'll get the bed in the guest bedroom made sometime this week.
The previous owner left her washer and dryer.  We were excited not to have that expense.  However, things didn’t work out quite like we expected and have decided to purchase new anyway.  Tomorrow afternoon we’re off to buy a washer, dryer, TV, a desk, and recliners.

View from the dining room and patio
It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure, but we love our new home even if we’re too tired to fully enjoy it yet.  Here are a few photos.  I’ll do more later.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Saving the Brook Trout in Lynn Camp Prong

Since the rest of the week will be devoted to the condo closing and moving, we wanted to take advantage of today for a hike.  Gene also wanted to wash the car and we needed to make a quick run to Walmart, so we selected something short and close by.  We decided on something in the Tremont area again, but today we drove past West Prong Trail and the Institute and all the way to the end of the gravel road to Middle Prong trailhead.

The gravel road ends at a large parking area which includes a circular turn around for the convenience of those towing large horse trailers.  Middle Prong Trail begins by crossing a footbridge over the confluence of Thunderhead Prong and Lynn Camp Prong which form Middle Prong of the Little River.  The trail follows Lynn Camp Prong for the entire length of the trail some 4 miles from the trailhead.  We didn’t go that far.  We stopped after 2.3 miles at the junction with Panther Creek Trail.

The trail is along an old railroad bed left over from the logging days before the park was established.  At one place we could see an old rail exposed in the trail.  Another relic from those days was a rusted out shell of a car.  The guidebook states that it was a cadillac which belonged to the Middle Prong CCC camp supervisor.  When it quit running they just pushed it off to the side of the road and left it there.

Lynn Camp Prong is a beautiful stream with several sharp drops creating short falls and cascades.  There are also a few deep pools perfect for a cool swim on a hot day.  A few years ago we saw a river otter in one of the deeper pools.  This is also a popular spot for fly fishermen, but the stream is closed to fishing right now. More on that later.

We strolled along enjoying the cool morning temperatures and beauty of the rushing water.  There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot and we didn’t see anyone along our hike.  I was beginning to think we were the only ones out this morning.

We were very surprised to find a work crew at the junction with Panther Creek Trail.  It was a large crew, perhaps 10 or 12.  We were hoping they were installing a bridge over Lynn Camp Prong which has to be crossed to access Panther Creek Trail.  That wasn’t the case.  It turned out to be a group of seasonal park employees funded by Trout Unlimited and a three volunteers from Trout Unlimited.  They were in the process of counting and weighing the brook trout in Lynn Camp Prong.  They let us watch and explained the process to Gene.

These guys were basically doing an inventory of the brook trout--counting, weighing, measuring and examining to see how healthy they were.  To do that they were shocking the water to stun the fish so they could be gathered and examined.  This has been a multiyear project to restore the brook trout in the Smokies.

The brook trout have been jeopardized by the presence of rainbow trout.  Rainbow trout are not native to the park, but were introduced for some reason sometime in the past.  Rainbows are larger and more aggressive and the poor little brook trout could hardly survive.  The rainbow trout have been removed and now the brook trout are making a comeback.  According to the crew, this project has been successful in other streams in the park and they are confident it will be in Lynn Camp Prong as well.

It was a great lesson and we’re glad we were there this morning.

After watching these guys for a while we headed back to the car.  On the return trip we saw a family on horseback and several other hikers.  The parking lot was nearly full when we got there.  We were really lucky to have had the trail all to ourselves for so long.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Monday, June 25, 2012

West Prong Trail

We needed to get away from this house buying/furniture shopping project we’ve been wrapped up in for so many days.  We wanted some exercise and fresh air.  One of the closest trails from our campground is West Prong.  It is less than 15 miles from our campsite to the trailhead and all on paved road.  East Tennessee is experiencing a record breaking heat wave this week so an early start was essential.

West Prong Trail gets its name from the West Prong of the Little River.  In the old days, folks around here called forks of a river prongs.  The trail actually begins closer to the Middle Prong, but quickly climbs away from the water and crosses West Prong at campsite 18.

The trailhead is across Middle Prong from the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont.  This educational facility conducts programs for school age children and workshops for adults throughout the year.  Their goal is to connect people with nature especially within Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Our trailhead parking lot was on the other side of Tremont Road from the Institute.  The parking lot is large enough to accommodate about 6 cars.  It is also possible to park at the Institute.

West Prong Trail is a little over two and a half miles in length and ends at the junction with Bote Mountain Trail.  We weren’t going all the way to the end, but planned to stop at backcountry campsite number 18 about 2 miles from the trailhead.

Our hike started with a climb of 500 feet in the first mile.  The profile looks worse than the actual climb; it was fairly gentle on a wide trail relatively free of rocks and roots.  Hikers share this trail with horses, so you gotta watch where you put your foot.  Almost immediately we passes an obvious trail junction.  Even though there was no indication on the sign where this side trail went, we knew it led to an old cemetery.  We passed by wanting to save that exploration for the end of our hike.

At about one mile we topped out on our climb and began our descent to West Prong and the campsite.  We had been walking in a forest of hardwoods on the dry side of Fodderstack Mountain.  As we came around to the other side the vegetation changed to include many more rhododendron and we began crossing small seeps.

The super bloom of rhododendron has been beautiful and there are still many blossoms on the trees, but it is past its prime and many petals littered the trail.

Campsite 18 was our turning around point, but first a break was in order.  This campsite is designated to accommodate 12.  It’s a large area so backpackers have plenty of room to spread out.  West Prong flows through the middle of the campsite and the fire ring and large cooking area is located near the water.  It made a perfect place for a break.

There is a footbridge across West Prong and the trail continues on to connect with Bote Mountain Trail.  Bote Mountain Trail could serve as a connector to various trails leading to Cades Cove or to the Appalachian Trail at Spence Field.  We weren’t going that way, so after our break we headed back the way we came.

On our way back we did a little exploring.  At about halfway, we came to an obvious trail leading down the mountain.  There was a sign identifying West Prong Trail, but nothing to indicate where the side trail led.  The trail looked maintained so down we went.  We sorta expected another old cemetery, but we didn’t find one after about a half mile of hiking.  We also thought it might be another trail connecting to the Walker Valley cemetery at the beginning of West Prong Trail, but we seemed to be going in the wrong direction for that.  We also thought it might be one of those secret wildflower trails and it might be, but we didn’t see much evidence of dying spring flowers.  Not even trillium which is everywhere.  In the end, we suspected it’s an abandoned trail from times past.  There are several of these trails around the park and many of those who remember them still hike them.  We finally gave up and made our way back up the hill to continue on our way.

Our next spot to explore was Walker Valley Cemetery.  This is a large cemetery compared to many in the Park.  The trail and cemetery are maintained by the park service for the benefit of descendants.  Many pioneer communities occupied the area which eventually became the National Park.  Some of these settlements were long gone by the time the park was established in the 1930s, but many of them were thriving communities.  Naturally, there were cemeteries in those communities and they dot the park in every direction.  Walker Valley Cemetery, being close to a paved road, obviously sees lots of visitors.  We were surprised to see grave markers with fairly recent dates.  Perhaps it’s still being used.

It was good to be out and stretch our legs.  We enjoyed our hike along West Prong Trail and really enjoyed the little bit of exploring we did.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Whole New Adventure

In a previous post I mentioned that Gene and I had been keeping busy with “other stuff” and promised to give more details of that at a later date.  Well, here’s the scoop on what’s been happening in our lives over the past couple weeks and it’s certainly a whole new adventure.

We are, once again, home owners, or at least we will be next week after closing.  So, how did this happen?  Here’s the story.

For several years now I have been missing that sense of community you have when involved with family, friends, work, clubs, church, whatever.  Sure, we see family and friends, both Nashville friends from years past and RVing friends we’ve met in our travels around the country, but a brief visit a couple times a year is not the same as putting down roots and becoming involved with the community.  We love RVing, but there are some things we miss and this is the number one thing for me.  Gene doesn’t feel as strongly as I do about this whole community thing.  Perhaps it’s that nesting instinct which is so strong in females.  He’d probably say he misses the dishwasher most.  Anyway, this has been weighing me down for some time now.

The other thing we’re not real satisfied with is our winter travel.  We don’t like Texas.  Arizona and the west coast are too far away to be in Tennessee at Christmas and back for a visit in March.  Our first winter we spent in South Carolina and the past three winters we’ve been in central Florida.  We’re just not satisfied with those places.  The only reason we head south in the winter is to get out of the cold.

With these two issues heavy on our minds, we came to East Tennessee this summer with the idea of looking around for a permanent home.  Although we each have lived in Nashville for more than half a century, we knew we didn’t want to live in Nashville now.  While we’re still healthy and active, we wanted to be close to good hiking.  Several communities in East Tennessee were on our short list and even a couple in Western North Carolina, but Maryville was the winner.  Not only do we have Great Smoky Mountain National Park in our back door, we are within a short driving distance of Cherokee, Nantahala, and Pisgah National Forests, and have a straight shot into Nashville on I-40 without having to cross the mountain or get into Knoxville traffic.

It has been nine years since we owned a brick and sticks house.  During the first couple of years, we rented apartments when we were back in Nashville for the winter after traveling for the summer in our pop-up camper.  We’ve lived in RVs full-time for almost seven years.

You can imagine that the prospects of moving into a condo next week are both exciting and overwhelming.  It’s a small condo, but it seems so huge compared to the 300 and 400 square feet we’ve been used to for so long.  That part is exciting, plus a dishwasher and a garage for storage.  But then we realized we didn’t have even a single piece of furniture.  Unlike many full-time RVers, we do not have a storage unit crammed full of stuff.  Everything we own we carry with us every mile of the way.  We’ve spent some long days this week at the furniture stores in Knoxville.

We plan to keep the RV, so besides furniture we need everything else that goes along with housekeeping--dishes, linens, another litter box, coffee maker, trash can, and the list goes on and on.  We’re overwhelmed!

We decided to keep the RV because we’re not finished with traveling yet.  There are still so many places to visit and trails to hike.  So, I guess we have evolved (that seems to be the buzz word for change these days) into whatever the opposite of snowbird is.  We’ll travel to cooler climates during the summer months and stay home during the winters.

To satisfy our passion for hiking, the summers will find us on trails in New England, Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington and everywhere in between.  Then there are so many of those National Parks we haven’t seen.  Hopefully, next summer we’ll be exploring several of those Parks in Utah.

We’re excited about our little condo in a small development on the edge of town.  I only have this one photograph taken from my new front door.  By this time next week we should be moved in and I’ll post more photos then.

Now that we have furniture purchased and all those little details have been worked out with realtors and inspectors and seems like everybody else in town, perhaps we can get back to hiking some next week.  We’re just waiting for closing now.  I’ll also try to get my act together and post a blog more regularly.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Laurel Falls Trail

We finally got out for a short hike this morning.  I’ve been battling the this old bad back for several days and felt like a short, easy hike would be good for me.  Short and easy were the key words.  I didn’t want to carry a pack and I wanted to wear my tennis shoes instead of those heavy hiking boots.  We considered the Maryville greenway until I remembered about the Laurel Falls trail in Smoky Mountain National Park.

This short trail is 1.3 miles from the parking lot to the falls.  The best part for me today is the fact that it is paved.  It may be the only trail in the Park that is paved, but the paving was done several years ago and is broken and crumbling in many areas.  Still it allowed me to wear my tennis shoes, so I was happy.

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular destinations in the Park.  A short, relatively easy hike with a beautiful waterfall at the end is just what many visitors are looking for.  Photographers, too.  There are two large parking lots at the Laurel Falls trailhead and it isn’t uncommon to see cars parked on both sides of the road for a quarter mile in both directions during the summer vacation season.  Because it’s so popular, we went early this morning to avoid as much of the crowd as possible.

It was a beautiful walk with rosebay rhododendron blooming almost as far as you could see.  According to the June 17th post of Smoking Mountain Hiking Blog, this is a “super bloom” year.  These don’t happen very often and they speculate this is the best year in 100 years.  Whatever the reason, it certainly is gorgeous all over the park.

Bears are often seen on this trail, as well.  That probably had something to do with my desire to hike it today.  We’re still looking for that bear.  We came close today, but didn’t see her.  Others on the trail did, however.  In fact, we stopped to talk with the Park volunteer patrolling the trail as we were coming down from the falls.  He told us there were 5 bears in the area and one was on the trail this morning.  She was so close to hikers he had to blow his “bear horn” to get her to move off the trial.  All this was going on while we were enjoying the falls.  The only wild thing we saw besides park visitors was this black snake clinging to the tree.

We were not disappointed in the falls.  Sometimes after the spring rains subside and water levels go down, the falls are not as impressive.  There wasn’t as much water as earlier in the spring, but plenty to make a nice display.  The blooming rhododendron was a bonus.

There are not so many wildflowers in bloom now, but we did find a small patch of mountain mint.

We stayed at the falls for several minutes--until the crowds started to move in and block out the view.  We usually try to avoid these popular places during the summer rush, but I’m glad we went today.  It was the perfect walk for my back, the early morning temperatures were pleasant, the trail was not too crowded, and the falls and rhododendron were beautiful.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On The Home Front

I know it seems like all we do is hike and that’s mostly true.  It is our passion and there’s nothing we’d rather be doing.  However, our entire life isn’t on a trail somewhere and we are, from time to time, involved with other things.  That has been the case for the better part of this week.  More on that later.

Sometimes the Peanut can be so sweet and he's always happy for us to be at home.

Our month at this campground is over tomorrow.  We had planned to move up to the Mt Pisgah Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we have decided to spend a couple weeks back in Tennessee.  So, tomorrow morning we’re heading over to Misty River Campground near the Townsend entrance to the Park.  It’s really not so far over there by way of Newfound Gap Road over the mountain, but we (especially Gene) don’t want to drive the motorhome over that curvy road.  We’ll take I-40 around through Knoxville and then cut over to Maryville.

We’ve enjoyed our time in North Carolina and had planned to go up to the Mt Pisgah Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We may still do that later in the summer, but for now we want to be on the Tennessee side of the Smokies for a few weeks.  There are so many wonderful trails over there.

We had planned a hike for today, but as we were ready to walk out the door, I bent over to pick up my pack and my back had a few things to say about that.  I immediately got out the heating pad and stretched out for an hour.  That helped a lot and I was able to walk around the campground for a few minutes.  After another session with the heating pad, I was feeling good as new.  Well, not NEW, but my regular OLD self.  Hopefully, we’ll be back on the trail early next week.

In my last post I included this photo, but didn’t have a clue as to what type bird it might be.  Pam, at Nomadic Newfies, one of our faithful readers, tried to help me out in that regard and did an internet search for this bird.  She suggests it might be an Eastern Towhee.  Thanks, Pam, for coming to my rescue.

We want to welcome two more followers.  First, is Brady Rose and second, is Pearl at Serenity Cove.  Doesn’t that sound like a place you want to be.  We’re glad to have Brady and Pearl tagging along.

Gene is back with a little ice cream treat for me.  Better tend to that.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Appalachian Trail to Silers Bald

After a week of not hiking, we were back out there today.  With the warmer temperatures we’re selecting higher elevation trails.  Today we drove up to Clingman’s Dome for a walk out the AT to Silers Bald.

Our hike started with a half mile hike uphill on the paved path which leads to Clingman’s Dome observation tower.  The Appalachian Trail passes next to the tower and we headed south.  It was a pretty clear day so the views were special. This section of the AT traverses the ridge and offers spectacular views from both sides of the trail.

We took our time walking down (everything is down from Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee) to Silers Bald.  We stopped to enjoy the views and we talked with several other hikers who were headed north on the trial.

A little over halfway we reached Double Spring Gap shelter.  It was a good spot for a break.  Like the rest of the shelters in the Smokies, it has been renovated recently.  The benches and cooking porches are a real improvement.  The skylights make such a big difference inside the shelter.  It is actually light inside and not so dark, dank, and dreary as in the old shelter days.

Most, but not all the shelters in the Smokies have composting privies.  This one at Double Spring Gap shelter is of the open air style.  Talk about a room with a view.

Immediately past the shelter, we saw a deer back in the woods.  He was well hidden and I only got a glimpse of one eye and a nose.  Shortly after the deer sighting, we found this cute bunny in the trail.  The trail maintaining crew had recently passed this way with a sling blade or weed eater.  I guess the bunny thought lunch had been served.  He was happy as a lark munching on the cut vegetation.  We stood still on the trail and he came right up to us.

Silers Bald was once an open bald, but not so any longer.  It has been reclaimed by trees and there are no longer any views from the bald.  There is a large rock with AT blazes and arrows painted on it.

We saw this bird, but I haven't a clue what he is.
We continued on past the bald to Silers Bald shelter for our lunch.  After a nice break we headed back to the car.  The return trip was mostly uphill, gaining that 1000 feet we lost as we came off Clingman’s Dome.

Clingman's Dome Parking lot.  We still have a way to go yet.
We made one change on the way back.  We went down the Clingman’s Dome Bypass trail instead of going on up and taking the paved path down.  That was a mistake as that trail was rough, rocky, and wet.  It could certainly use a little maintenance.

Besides the bunny and the views, the highlight of the day was the flame azalea in full bloom along the trail.  Really, the whole hike was great.  It is one of our favorites in the Smokies, even if there is that big climb at the end of the day.

We are glad to welcome our latest follower, Dell.  Thanks, Dell, for tagging along.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

With a weather forecast of rain for day after day after day, we knew we couldn’t stay at home without going stir crazy.  A scenic drive came to mind and we chose Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature trail is a 6-mile, one-way loop through Roaring Fork historic district, one of those several pioneer communities like Cade’s Cove and Cataloochee which the Park maintains for their historical significance.   Along the way, Roaring Fork, one of the larger streams in the Smokies, makes its presence known as it tumbles over rocks in its rush toward the Little Pigeon River in Gatlinburg.

Roaring Fork is on the Tennessee side of the mountain and we drove from Cherokee to Gatlinburg along Newfound Gap Road.  We make this 30-mile drive often, but never tire of it.  On clear days, there are some awesome views.  On rainy days like today, the higher peaks were shrouded in clouds.  The fog or heavy mist adds an eery dimension to the landscape.  I just love it in all conditions.  Of course, I had my camera at the ready and a sharp eye out for that elusive bear.

We got to Gatlinburg early in the day and traffic wasn’t too bad.  I suppose those vacationers were still in bed or at one of several pancake places.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail begins off Cherokee Orchard Road just past the Rainbow Falls Trailhead.  Rainbow Falls is a very popular destination for hikers so there are two large parking lots to accommodate that trail.  Rainbow Falls is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, but beyond the Falls the trail continues all the way to Mt LeConte.

Bud Ogle's Grist Mill
Before entering the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, we made a stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite.  We looked around the house and barn and walked the short nature trail.  This was a beautiful walk among the rosebay rhododendron which were in full bloom.  We passed Ogle’s grist mill.  It was of the tub mill or turbine type rather than having a water wheel.  The old wooden flume was still in place, mostly.  Enough pieces were missing that it doesn’t carry water any longer.

Ogle's home

and barn

The very early 1800s saw the first settlers come to what is now Gatlinburg.  Over the next years, as the families grew, they began to spread out.  By the mid 1800 several families were living in the Roaring Fork area and by 1900 there was a school, church, and general store.

The small cabin at Jim Bales place

We stopped at the Jim Bales place--a farm he inherited from his father.  The barn and corncrib remain on the site, but the small cabin was moved here from another location after the Park was established.

Ephraim Bales' home
Just down the road was the home of Ephraim Bales, Jim’s older brother.  Ephraim built his home in the classic “dog trot” style--a sort of breezeway between two small rooms.

Alfred Reagan's home

After a couple of old homes, they start to all look the same, so we soon grew weary of running through raindrops in wet grass to see one more log cabin.  However, the Alfred Reagan place was different.  Alfred paneled and painted his house which was built in the “saddlebag” design--there is one fireplace in the middle of the house rather than a fireplace at each end.

After our ride through Roaring Fork we headed back out to Gatlinburg.  Traffic was jam packed and creeping along.  It reminded us again of why we try to avoid Gatlinburg.

Re-entering the Park, we stopped at the main Visitor Center at Sugarlands.  There is a small “museum” here.  I usually think of a museum in terms of antiques, but this was what I would call a “nature museum”.  On display were the various plants and animals found in the park.  Most of the animals were real and had been artfully displayed after a visit to the taxidermist.  The plants seemed to be plastic, mostly.  However, I could stand there and study the needles and cones and now think I might be able to tell the difference between a Fraser Fir and a Spruce.  It was also nice to see what a Dutchman’s pipe looks like.

We wanted to see the film which is only shown at this visitor center, however, a “special ranger program” was being offered instead.  It was all about how the pioneers built those log cabins, barns, and corncribs.  Very interesting, especially since we’d just been through several.

We had a great day despite the rain.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.