Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gregory Ridge Trail

The ladies hiking extravaganza is now officially over.  With families and other commitments, the ladies came and went at various times during the month.  Sue hung on to the very end and she and Garnet spent the end of last week on a backpack out of Deep Creek.  We had invited them over for dinner Saturday night to celebrate a great month of hiking.  Sue and Garnet hiked every hike that was planned and logged right at 100 miles for the month.  They were both tired and hungry Saturday night, but spirits were high.

Gene was searching through the guidebook for a hike to do on Monday.  With the heat of summer it is hard to find something suitable that isn’t at high elevation.  When he came upon what the guidebook suggests as one of the finest hikes in the Smokies, how could we pass that up?

Gregory Ridge Trail is 5 miles in length and gains about 2500 feet.  Gregory Ridge Trail junctions with Gregory Bald Trail at Rich Gap.  At that point, it is only six-tenths of a mile from Gregory Bald via Gregory Bald Trail.  That was another 500 feet in elevation gain, but we were so close, what the heck.  We had to go up there.  Then there was a little side trail Gene wanted to explore which added at least another half mile to his day.  No wonder we were tired by the time we got back to the car.

Our trailhead is at the end of Forge Creek Road, a gravel road which is off the Cades Cove Loop Road.  The distance from our house is not all that great--only about 35 miles.  However, traffic on Cades Cove Loop Road was SLOW going and it seemed to take forever to get to the trailhead.

The first mile of the trail is almost flat through a beautiful hardwood forest with the sound of Forge Creek tumbling close by.  We crossed Forge Creek a total of three times.  The first two crossings were on footbridges.  At one time there had been a footbridge at the third crossing, but it has been washed away.  Remnants of the bridge could be seen down stream.

Just past this last creek crossing, we came to backcountry campsite 12.  If you were backpacking and forgot your stove, have no worries.  There was a collection of old cans suitable for alcohol stoves left at the campsite marker.  This campsite looked like it could accommodate 4-6 tents in its upper and lower sections. The upper section was much more appealing than the lower section.

After the third creek crossing the trail narrows and begins a more noticeable uphill grade.  For the next three miles it was a steady climb, but not horribly steep.  We plodded along, stopping for breaks occasionally and to take in what little views we could get through the trees.

Somewhere about a mile from the top is where we found the buck.  He was happy as a lark grazing in the middle of the trail.  He noticed us right away, but apparently felt we weren’t a threat.  He continued to nibble away at the grass along the edge of the trail until he slowing wandered off into the woods.  It’s always thrilling to see wildlife up close doing their wildlife thing.  This was the highlight of our day.

Gregory Ridge Trail ends at the junction with Gregory Bald Trail.  At the junction, Gregory Bald Trail goes left for 2 miles and ends at the Appalachian Trail or it goes right for six-tenths of a mile to Gregory Bald.  The Bald was our destination for lunch.

The views were not  outstanding off the Bald because of the haze, but we could see Cades Cove and we found a place to sit with that view for lunch.  The big draw for hikers to the Bald are the flame azalea in June.  Of course, that all gone now, but the blueberries were just coming on.  In another couple weeks we could probably fight the bears for a share.  At 5000 feet, the temperature was not uncomfortable on the Bald, but the sun was beaming down so we didn’t linger very long.  After about 20 minutes we were ready to find some shade.

If we had continued on Gregory Bald Trail and gone on over the Bald, we would have shortly come to the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail.  It is possible to make a loop hike using Gregory Bald, Wolf Ridge, Twentymile Loop and Long Hungry Ridge Trails and this was one of the backpacking trips the ladies had planned.  However, there has been severe storm damage along Wolf Ridge and Twentymile Loop Trails making them almost impassable.  Will save that for another time.

Gene is an old hiker and has been hiking the Smokies for many years.  In times past, there were more shelters in the backcountry than there are now.  He remembered there being a shelter somewhere between Gregory Bald and the trail junction at Rich Gap.  He wanted to find the site of that old shelter.  Luckily, there was a sign prohibiting horse travel on a very faint trail about halfway between the Bald and the trail junction.  He took a chance and followed that little used trail.  I stayed behind on the main trail.  It seemed a lot less snaky.  He found the site of the old shelter.  All evidence of the shelter was gone, but the piped spring was still there and flowing with water.

With lunch and the exploring done, we were ready to head back down the mountain.  The trip down was uneventful, but seemed like it was about twice as long as the uphill climb.  We stopped at campsite 12 for a break and were grateful for the more gentle grade of the last two miles.  The car was a welcome site, not only for it seat, but also for its air conditioning.

I’m not ready to declare this the finest hike in the Smokies, but it sure ranks up there close to the top.  We already have this hike on our list for winter.  It was obvious there are some incredible views from the trail if you didn’t have to look around the leaves.

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Home Base

I think we’re pretty well settled into our little condo in Maryville, TN.  We have all our furniture bought, at least for the time being.  As we continue our travels, I’m sure I’ll be picking up what Gene calls “dust magnets” to sit atop the furniture or hang from the walls for a more homey feel.

We’ve been asked by family and friends if we’re going to sell the RV.  Our answer is a resounding “NO”.   We have no plans to give up RVing.  We’ve only scratched the surface of the fabulous places to visit.  We fully intend to spend at least 4 months each summer traveling.  Besides that, we hope to take a short trip each month or 6-weeks during the remainder of the year.

Unfortunately, we can’t park our RV in our driveway.  It is in storage at a campground near Maryville.  We have easy access for any regular monthly maintenance that needs to be done and it’s close at hand for a quick get-away anytime the travel bug bits.

It’s true--we’re no longer full-time RVers, but, just as so many folks who have been on the road for a number of years have said, change happens.  We were ready for what we think of as a “home base” and are glad we made the move.

We were talking with friends Tony and Diana the other day and Tony reminded me that I had not updated the blog to reflect our new lifestyle.  Thanks, Tony, for the reminder.  I’ve done that now and for more detail on some of the reasons for a “home base” and why we chose Maryville, Tennessee check out the Home Base tab under the header photo.

We already think of this place as “home”--both the condo and the community.  We feel like we have the best of both worlds now.  We’re looking forward to making friends and becoming involved with the Maryville community.  And, we excited about exploring America on extended trips during the summer and finding new hiking trails around East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and North Georgia.

Life is good no matter where or what you call “home”.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Forney Ridge Trail

With the heat of summer, we keep looking for high elevation trails for our hiking adventures.  It seems we are always drawn to the trails off Clingmans Dome Road in the Smokies.  It was a toss-up between Forney Ridge and Forney Creek.  I voted for Forney Ridge because it was a little less steep and because it went over Andrews Bald.  We didn’t want to do the entire length of the trail down and back up again, so our plan was to hike down for as long as we wanted then turn around and CLIMB back up to the car.

Found this pink turtlehead at the beginning of our hike
Forney Ridge trailhead is at the end of Clingmans Dome Road.  There is a huge parking lot, but during summer months it fills up fast, particularly on a clear day.  We arrived about 9 AM and there were still plenty of spaces to park.

Forney Ridge is a popular trail as far as Andrews Bald.  Beyond the Bald, the trail is often deserted as are most of the trails in the Smokies even during the peak summer season.  It’s always amazing to me that we can spend a whole day on a hike and never see anyone.  Smoky Mountains is the most visited of all the National Parks, but most of those visitors never get off the pavement.  There are a few who venture down a trail to a waterfall or other feature, but rarely hike more than 3 miles from the road.  Even though the Smokies has millions of visitors each year, if you’re looking for solitude, this is the place to find it.

The 1.8 miles to Andrews Bald has been refurbished recently and is now a very fine trail.  We hiked this section earlier in the summer and I posted a couple photos of the trail in that blog entry.  The major draw for Andrews Bald are the azaleas which bloom in late June or early July.  That’s past now, so we saw very few people on this section of trail.  It offered for us just what we wanted--a cool place to hike.

We didn’t have azaleas to ooh and aah about, but there were a few flowers.  Most notably were the Turk’s Cap lilies.  I love to see these on the trail.

We also saw blue bead lily.  In the spring this has a yellow-green bell-shaped flower which is pretty, but I think I like the bright blue bead just as well.

There was also plenty Filmy Angelica.  It’s in the parsnip family and the bees seem to love it.  I kept my distance.

Since the bad storm a few weeks ago, we’ve noticed several blowdowns along the trails we’ve been hiking.  If we see something that needs attention, we don’t mind taking care of it so long as it’s not a major job.  Gene often carries a bow saw for this sort of light trail maintenance.  He didn’t have his saw on this hike, so got out the Swiss Army knife to cut back this dead branch that was hanging over the trail right at eye level.

The trail is a steady downhill from Clingmans Dome Road with just a slight uphill to Andrews Bald.  After crossing the Bald the trail drops steadily and continues to the junction with Springhouse Branch Trail.  We went down a little way, but not too far.  I think we were both thinking about that climb to get back to the car.  Also, it had rained recently and the trail was pretty wet.  A steep, wet trail required more work than what we were willing to give.  We went back to the Bald, spread out a poncho to sit on and just chilled out for a while.  Not a bad way to spend the day.

Forney Ridge Trail runs a total distance of 5.5 miles between Clingmans Dome Road and Springhouse Branch Trail.  It’s possible to make a loop hike combining Forney Ridge, Springhouse Branch, and Forney Creek Trails.  That’s about a 20 mile hike and not something I want to do in a day.  Luckily, there are several backcountry campsites along Forney Creek Trail making this a nice backpacking loop.

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Found a Bear on Curry Mountain Trail

At long last, just when I was beginning to think there really weren’t any bears in the Smokies, we came upon one on our hike today.  We were coming down the trail, curved around the side of the mountain and there he was digging for all he was worth into a bee hive.  The bear had the whole hive in an uproar.  I saw the bear and a bee saw me.  I got a good sting--boy, those little critters can inflict some pain.

With a bear in the trail between us and the car, we naturally wanted to get the bear to move on along, preferably off the trail.  We talked to the bear to make our presence apparent.  Gene blew his whistle, but the bear was in the middle of a meal and was reluctant to just walk away.  He finally turned his head enough to see us and then ran up the hillside off the trail.

With the bear out of the way, our next problem was the swarming bees.  I’d already been stung and didn’t want that to happen again.  We got out our ponchos and wrapped up for a dash past the hive.  That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.  If those bees had decided to get under the poncho, we’d have been in trouble.  Thankfully, we got by without getting stung.

Our hike was up Curry Mountain Trail.  The trailhead is across the street from Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area and that’s the best place to park.  There isn’t any parking at the trailhead, but there is a small pullout about 50 ft away on the opposite side of the street.  However, the picnic area is by far the best place to park.

Curry Mountain Trail is 3.3 miles in length and gains about 1000 feet--a gentle climb.  The trail is an old logging road so is wide and easy to hike.  Often summer hiking involves wading through knee-high vegetation along the edge of the trail.  No so on Curry Mountain.  The trail is wide and has very little vegetation, but the weed-whacker had been there anyway and had the trail in pristine condition.  Speaking of the weed-whacker, we have noticed a lot of trail work recently.  Gene says Anthony Creek had been cleaned last week and the ladies and I were happy to find both Thomas Divide and Newton Bald trails recently weed-whacked.  It sure makes for a more pleasant hiking experience.  Thank you, trail volunteers.
Another highlight of our hike was seeing several
yellow fringed orchids.
Curry Mountain junctions with Meigs Mountain Trail and the trail junction was the place for our break.  We were happy to find a fallen log so we didn’t have to sit on the ground.  In times past, this spot which is now where these two trails meet, was the location for the school which served the Jake’s Creek community.  There is no evidence of the school now.

About a quarter mile to the right on Meigs Mountain Trail is another of the old pioneer cemeteries.  We walked over there to check it out.  There may be 25 or 30 graves in the small cemetery and all but two were marked with field stones.  Information we found on the internet says Henderson and Huskey families are buried here.  Both of the grave markers were of Huskeys.

Our return trip down Curry Mountain was an easy hike and we were making really good time until we came upon the bear.  That held us up for several minutes, but we were still back at the car and our picnic lunch by noon.

We want to welcome our latest followers.  I don’t have a name, but they are looking forward to full-time RVing.  Planning for a new lifestyle is an exciting time.  They’re just getting started with their blog, as well.  Check it out at RV Paradise.  Thanks for tagging along.

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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Camping with the Girls

Oh, it’s good to be home again after a great week of camping with my girlfriends.  There’s really no place like home.

Enjoying Juney Whank Falls

We got our gear packed up and headed over to Bryson City, North Carolina last Monday for a week of camping at Deep Creek Campground.  This small campground is, as the name implies, located on Deep Creek just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There is a loop in the campground which will accommodate RVs, but we had a tent so decided to stay in the tent only loop which was right on the creek.  This is a popular campground for families because of the tubing available.  It was nice camping creekside, but we may have been happier up the hill with the RVs rather than by the creek with so many children.  Nevertheless, we had a great time.

Planning the next hike

There were six of us in our little group.  We got there about midday on Monday and set up our encampment on two adjacent sites.  I’m not going into all the details of our week because, as the saying goes, “what happened at Deep Creek stays at Deep Creek”.  In a nutshell, we spent our time talking, laughing, hiking, planning for hiking, talking, eating, laughing, tubing, and eating.  Of course, all that talking, especially in the wee hours of the night, can leave an old girl pretty exhausted and in need of a nap.

Overall, our weather was good.  It’s summer, so it was hot and humid.  But summer also means afternoon thunderstorms.  We had those and got at least a sprinkle of rain everyday.  Thursday night we got a real downpour and were grateful it didn’t happened while we were out on the trail or while we were trying to fix dinner.

I had a great time, but I’ll have to say it’s been a very long time since I’ve camped in a tent and I surely missed my RV with its bed, shower, hot water, refrigerator, and gas stove.  After crawling in and out of a tent and sleeping on the ground for a week, I was beginning to really feel my age and almost all of it was hurting.
Finally, a log for our lunch break.

Today, I have what seems like a never ending list of chores--laundry, cleaning, grocery, etc, etc.  I better get back with it or I’ll never get finished.  I just wanted you to know I survived a week in the wilds with my girlfriends.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fork Ridge and Deep Creek Trails

Today was another big hiking day with the ladies.  We’ve added two more friends from Nashville to our group.  That made 6 of us including Gene for our hike today.

Before I get into that, I want to thank Rick for helping me fix my comment issue.  He suggested I download a newer version of my browser.  I wasn’t able to download the latest and greatest.  I guess my computer is too old to support that, but I got a newer version than the one I had and that solved the problem.  Thanks, Rick.

For our hike today, we planned to hike down Fork Ridge Trail and up Deep Creek Trail.  The Deep Creek trailhead is about 1.5 miles past Newfound Gap on Newfound Gap Road.  Since we would end our hike here, we drove there first to leave a car in that parking lot.  We all piled into one car and drove back up to Clingman’s Dome Road to the Fork Ridge trailhead.

Gene and I had hiked Fork Ridge down to Deep Creek and back up earlier in the summer.  It was beginning to be overgrown then.  Today, it was almost impassable in some areas.  There were also several blow-downs from the storm last week.  It was slow going in places, especially where the blackberry bushes seemed to almost swallow us. I’ve got about a zillion little scratches all over my arms.  Stinging nettle was also at its summer peak.

Heading down Fork Ridge Trail
Fork Ridge Trail starts high in the spruce-fir forest and descends about 2700 feet to Deep Creek where it ends at the Deep Creek Trail.  The footbridge over Deep Creek washed out several years ago and according to the trail guidebook, the Park service is not planning to replace it.  Did I mention we’ve had about 4 inches of rain this week?  Deep Creek was flowing mightily.  We all got across safely in our water shoes.  We certainly didn’t want wet boots for the rest of the hike.

Garnett was the first to head across.
Gloria Dale is ready with matching crocs and poncho

The water was cold and that first step was such a shock.  After that initial shock the crossing wasn’t that bad even though the water was knee deep.  Footing was good and the rocks on the bottom weren’t very slippery.  I wouldn’t want to try crossing without trekking poles, though.

There had been a few sprinkles just before we started our crossing.  When the sun came out, Deep Creek was quite beautiful with the mist rising in the sunshine.

The first drop of rain and Sue just about disappeared under her poncho
Once on the other side, we dried our feet and donned our boots again.  Deep Creek Trail is a total of 14 miles in length from Newfound Gap Road all the way to Deep Creek Campground.  It’s a very popular trail for fishermen and there are several backcountry campsites along the length of the trial.

Starting our trek up Deep Creek Trail
We turned uphill and followed Deep Creek almost to Newfound Gap Road.  This trail was overgrown with summer vegetation as well, but not nearly so badly as Fork Ridge.  This 4-mile section of trail only gains about 1500 feet, so the climb was pretty gentle.  We made our way steadily along and were very glad to see the car where we left it early this morning.

We had been hearing thunder for about the last hour of our hike.  You can imagine how happy we were that we got to the car about 5 minutes before the downpour began.  We were again a cozy little group (but not fresh as daisies) crammed into one car as we drove back over to Fork Ridge trailhead to pick up the other car.

Gene got to tag along today, but we’re leaving him behind the rest of the week.  The five of us ladies are going over to Deep Creek Campground at the Bryson City entrance to the park on the North Carolina side for a car camping/hiking extravaganza.  I’m coming home late Friday night, so you won’t be hearing from me until then.

So, have a good week and thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blogger Issues Unresolved

We’ve been busy this week with hiking and regular chores around the house.  In the few spare minutes I’ve had, I’ve tried to figure out the problem with making comments.  Rick over at Rick and Paulette’s RV Travels had a couple of good suggestions, but those didn’t solve the problem.  We all know Rick has the magic touch when it comes to computers, so I’m hoping he’s intrigued enough to come up with another idea.

His first suggestion was to change my browser setting to enable cookies.  That was set to always accept cookies, but I clicked it “never” and then back to always, hoping that would jog something loose.  No luck there.

With cookies in mind, I decided to remove all the cookies.  Then I deleted all my history as well as my cache.  None of that helped.

I also sent an email to Google outlining the problem, but as yet have not had a response from those folks.

His second suggestion was to click off the “remember me” box on the Blogger sign in page.  I never have that box checked.  I always want to sign in whenever entering my account.  I don’t know why, I just do.  Anyway, again, I checked the box, signed in, signed out, then unchecked the box.  The next time I signed in, I was still unable to make comments.

I noticed one thing interesting.  One day this week, I was able to make a comment on a blog.  This particular blogger does not use “embedded” comments.  That gave me the idea of changing my comment setting to something other than “embedded”.  I was able to make a reply to a comment left on my blog, however, it didn’t help when it came to making comments on others’ blogs.  Since nearly everybody uses “embedded” comments, I’m not able to make comments on most of the blogs I read.

So, the search for a solution continues.

That’s all I know.  Thanks for tagging along.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cove Mountain Trail

Tuesday was another hiking day.  Gene went along with Garnett, Sue, and I as we hiked the Cove Mountain Trail.  It was a long day at 12.5 miles and we got caught in a downpour, but we had a grand time.

Cove Mountain Trail runs along the Great Smoky Mountain National Park boundary on the Tennessee side of the Park west from Gatlinburg.  Because it’s along the boundary near the hustle and bustle of Gatlinburg, it’s not an isolated, backcountry trail.  At several places within the first four miles, the trail abuts private property and almost within arms reach are fences, houses, driveways.  At about the 4 mile point, the ski lift at Ober Gatlinburg can be heard, if not seen.  We couldn’t see it yesterday due to the summer leaf cover.  Certainly not the backcountry, scenic trail we’re used to.

So why hike Cove Mountain Trail?  For many hikers, including Sue and myself, the 8.5 Cove Mountain Trail is among the 900 miles of trail in the Smokies.  Many hike it for the views of Gatlinburg during winter months when the leaves are down.  Some may go to see the old fire tower on the summit of Cove Mountain.  Some actually come for the trail itself.  It is a very nice trail to hike.  It’s an old road so is, for most of its length, a wide, grassy, gently graded path.  The lower two miles weaves its way past Cataract Falls and up through a vibrant rhododendron tunnel.

We had several options for hiking this trail and we discussed them all at length.  The trail is 8.5 miles in length--17 miles for a round trip.  That was not an option for this group.  Our original plan was to hike the lower half of the trail from behind Park Headquarters up to an unofficial path at the water tower near the Ober Gatlinburg ski lift.  Then, the next day, drive up and park at the water tower and hike the upper half of the trail to the tower on top of Cove Mountain.  We eventually abandoned that plan because we were unable to get concrete directions or find a detailed street map of that area of Gatlinburg.

Abandoning that option left us with running a car shuttle and hiking through from another trail.  There were two options for this idea.  Laurel Falls trail intersects with Cove Mountain making it the logical choice.  Little Greenbrier Trail intersects with Laurel Falls Trail and would have also been a good choice, but is about a mile longer.  We decided on the shorter Laurel Falls Trail to the top of Cove Mountain then descending Cove Mountain to the trailhead at Park Headquarters.  This gave us a 4-mile climb then an 8.5-mile descent.

By the time we got to the Park, left a car at Park Headquarters, and got over to the Laurel Falls parking area, all spaces were occupied.  We were lucky and found a spot large enough for our little Honda Fit on the side of the road not far from the trailhead.

The first mile of Laurel Falls trail from the trailhead to Laurel Falls is a very popular hike and there were many folks going up and coming down as we got started on our hike.  We blew past the falls without even stopping.  Above the falls, the trail was deserted.  We only saw one other group of four hikers during the rest of the day.

Laurel Falls trail above the falls is a dirt foot path.  We saw several blowdowns left by the storms which caused so much damage in the Park last week.  Although there were several downed trees across the trail, none were too large to get across and/or pick our way around.  We tried to “sweep” off as much of the little stuff as possible with our trekking poles, but we had a long day of hiking so couldn’t spend much time with trail maintenance.

We stopped for our first break at the junction with Little Greenbrier Trail.  It looks like Gene made this photo before us ladies were ready.

We had our lunch at the junction with Laurel Falls Trail and Cove Mountain Trail.  This is one tenth of a mile below the summit of Cove Mountain.  Gene and Sue went up to check out the old fire tower.  The fire towers within the Park are no longer in use.  This one has been converted to an Air Pollution Research Station.  Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited National Park unit in the nation.  All those visitors tour the park in their private vehicles.  It’s no wonder air quality is a major concern for park officials.

Access to the tower is not allowed and, as you can
see, there are no views from 
After a leisurely lunch, we headed downhill.  The descent was very pleasant.  The elevation change is very gradual at 2500 over the 8.5 miles.  We strolled along chatting and enjoying our surroundings.  About 4 miles down we began hearing thunder in the distance, but we were making good time and weren’t too concerned.  We got in another couple miles before the skies opened up and the rain fell.  This little cloud burst lasted on a few minutes.  We were feeling pretty good about not getting too wet.

We were close enough to be able to see the road when the next cloud burst happened.  We got soaked this time, especially when we came out at the parking lot and lost our tree cover.  We dashed by Cataract Falls trying to cover that last tenth of a mile in record time, so no photos of that this trip.

Of course, at the end of the trail us ladies had to stop at the restroom.  That was another dash from the car and back.  We were all soaked clear to the skin.  We were tired, wet hikers, but very happy at the end of the day.

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Road Prong Trail

I was back on the trail today and it felt so good.  Well, good until I fell down and lost a significant amount of skin from my right elbow.  Even with a nasty fall, it was great to be hiking after so much time with settling into our new home. Gene didn’t go with me today.  I was off on a girls trip with a couple of my hiking buddies from Nashville.

We did Road Prong Trail today.  We started our hike from Clingman’s Dome Road and hiked down hill 2.4 miles to the junction with Chimney Tops Trail.  Since there were plenty of cars amongst us ladies, we could have run a shuttle and hiked this trail from Clingman’s Dome Road down to Chimney Tops Trail and continued on to Newfound Gap Road for a total distance of 3.3 miles.  However, Chimney Tops Trail is closed right now for some major repairs so that option was available to us.  It really didn’t matter.  We wanted to hike and going back up the hill gave us a really good workout.

Road Prong Trail is a narrow foot path now, but back in the day it was the Oconaluftee Turnpike, the main road between Sevierville, TN and Cherokee, NC.  It was a wide, rutted thoroughfare used to drive livestock across the mountain.  During the Civil War cannon and ammunition were moved over this road.

Today the trail follows Road Prong for most of the length of the trail.  The trail is a narrow path, steep in places, and generally rocky.  A short segment seems to be routed right down the middle of Road Prong.  The water was not too deep today, so the numerous crossings were easy rock hops.  It was at one of these easy rock hops that I slipped and went down pretty hard.  Since nothing was broken--no bones, not my glasses, and not the camera--all is well.  I’ll probably be pretty sore in the morning.

There are a couple small waterfalls on Road Prong.  With the summer vegetation, it was hard to get a good camera view of the little falls, but we could see them through the leaves.  One in particular had a nice swimming hole at the bottom of the falls.  We may have been more tempted to take a quick dip if thunder hadn’t been rumbling in the distance.

Despite the steep, rocky, wet trail it was beautiful today.  We started high in the spruce-fir forest (I always love that) and descended to mid-level elevation where the rosebay rhododendron were in full bloom.  All along the way we passed huge patches of bee-balm and sunflowers growing almost over our heads.  Add to that the sound of rushing water and many, many small cascades and we had ourselves an almost perfect hike.  Since we had no pressing obligations, we took our time and spent almost all day in this little piece of heaven.  It was wonderful.

Great spot for our first break
My friends, Sue and Garnett, will be spending the rest of the month on trails in the Smokies.  I won’t be hiking with them everyday, but several and Gene may tag along with us some.  It’s gonna be a great July.

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blogger Issues

We are making great progress with getting our new home set up.  In fact, we’re looking forward to getting back to a regular hiking schedule next week.

I’ve recently encountered a problem making a comment on blogs.  I’m going to try to describe the problem in hopes there may be someone out there who can give me a hint, a clue, or a solution to this dilemma.

If I want to make a comment on someone’s blog, I get a comment box and I can type in a comment, but when I click on “publish”, I get a red message saying “Please choose a profile”.  Between this error message and the comment box, there is a line which says “Comment as:” accompanied with what looks like a drop down menu box which should offer choices.  That box doesn’t do anything when I click on it.

I can’t make comments on blogs which I access from my reader when logged into Blogger.  I can’t even make replies to comments left on my own blog.  Neither can I make comments on blogs posted at blogspot.com which I access without being logged onto Blogger.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Little Greenbrier School and the Walker Sisters

Last Monday we took some time to get out of the house and go for a hike.  Since it promised to be one of those hot, humid days typical for summer, our immediate thought was to go some place high in the mountains to escape the heat.  Can’t get any higher than Clingman’s Dome around here so we headed out very early.

The route we chose for this trip was down US 321 to Townsend where 321 turns left toward Pigeon Forge.  This drive is through rural Blount and Sevier Counties known around here as Wear Valley.  The valley would like to see more tourists, I’m sure, to help with the economy, but there just isn’t enough “touristy” stuff to draw the crowds.  There are a couple campgrounds, a new General Store, and a couple of riding stables, but that’s about it.  It’s a peaceful place.

There is an entrance to the National Park back here at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  I had wanted to stop at the restroom here and when I opened the car door the outside air was very pleasant.  I suggested we hike here instead of driving another 45 minutes up to Clingman’s Dome.

There are several trails in this area, but the one that I always love to hike is the trail to Little Greenbrier School and then on up to the Walker Sister’s place.  We parked the car in the picnic area and walked across the wooden bridge over Little River.  The trailhead is right there as you step off the bridge.

Metcalf Bottoms Trail is just six tenths of a mile from the bridge to the old school.  The first tenth or so is along a gravel access road to the water tank that provides water to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  Beyond the water tank the trail quickly becomes a narrow woods trail along a small creek.  There are a couple footbridges to cross before getting to the school yard.  We were early, so there was no one around.  It’s not uncommon to find a park ranger or volunteer here to answer questions or talk about the days when this school served the youngsters of this mountain community.  The one-room school is set up inside as it would have been back in the day.

Up the slope in what I think of as the school’s front yard, is another of those fine old cemeteries.  Usually, you find cemeteries associated with churches and that is true in this case.  The school also served as the community church on Sundays.  Most of the graves are marked with field stones, but those with tombstones bear the names of Stinnetts and Metcalfs and Walkers.  We always hike here, but it is possible to drive up.  The road is gravel, narrow, and very curvy, but most visitors to the school come that way.

We didn’t spend much time here.  Our real goal was the Walker Sisters’ place.  To get to the Walker Sisters’ place, one has to walk.  Just above the parking lot at the school there is a gate across the gravel road.  That is the trailhead for Little Brier Gap Trail which continues 1.4 miles to junction with Little Greenbrier Trail.  After 1 mile there is a short one tenth side trail which leads to the old Walker home place.  John Walker moved into this house with his family in the 1870s following the death of his father-in-law. John and his wife raised a family of 11 children in this house.  Five of the spinster  daughters continued to live here until the last one died in the 1964.

The springhouse is the first structures which comes into sight
as you walk up the drive
I just love coming back here.  It is such a peaceful place and on Monday morning, we had it all to ourselves for about 45 minutes before other visitors started to arrive.

In front of the house is the corn crib.
The house, corn crib, and springhouse are the only buildings that remain.
The walk back to the school was easy, mostly downhill, along a well maintained gravel road.  The crowds were beginning to move in and we passed one large group of about 15 ranging in age from an elderly grandmother to infants in arms.  Must have been a family reunion.

Back at the school, we saw one lady in the cemetery.  She had what looked like a small notepad in her had and Gene just happened to ask if she had relatives buried here.  He was just being friendly and making conversation, but it prompted that lady to open up and tell us her story.

Yes, she definitely had people buried in that cemetery--she was a Stinnett.  Her grandparents were Metcalfs and owned the land that is now Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  I think she said her grandmother was a sister-in-law to one of the Walker children.  Her uncle (I’m guessing it was great-great uncle by marriage) John Walker helped build the school in the early 1880s.  That little notepad she had in her hand turned out to be an old family history booklet.  Her car seat was full of such books and she was eager to show family photos.  Some of these photos we’d seen because they’re in the Visitor Centers, Museums, and in other books around the Park, but most were family photos seen only by the family and friends of the Stinnetts, Metcalfs, and Walkers.  We were thrilled and a little in awe.

We talked with this lady (Judith was her name) for about 45 minutes before we had to tear ourselves away.  She was there on this particular morning to give a talk to a group coming in on a ranger led hike.  As we returned to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area along the trail, we met the rangers and the group of about 10.  Boy, are they in for a treat.

Metcalf Bottoms Trail, by the way, is the path Judith’s grandmother took as a young girl on her way to school.  That knowledge certainly made me think about the trail differently as I hiked back to the car.

What a wonderful experience.  And to think, we could have gone on up to Clingman’s Dome and missed this whole encounter.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Maryville, TN, Our New Home Town

We are getting to know our new home town of Maryville.  This is not a “new” town to us.  We’ve been here numerous times over the past decades as we came for hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  About five years ago, Gene had a temporary work assignment in Knoxville and during that 9 month period we parked our 5th wheel and “lived” at a campground about 10 miles from Maryville.  Before that, way back in the stone age in the early 1950s, I lived in Maryville and my brother was born in Blount County Hospital.  I can’t go by that hospital without thinking of that.

We lived in this little house on Montvale.  This photo I made yesterday, but it is basically the same as I remember except the screened in side porch has been added.  I remember a few things from that time in my life, but most are associated with traumatic events.  We had our first puppy here, but all I remember is the day he was hit by a car on Montvale Road.  We got our first TV while living in this little house.  I remember this because it was during the time I had measles.  My folks got the TV so we could watch Wizard of Oz.  Now, as we move back to Maryville, I’m in the midst of reading Wicked.

Maryville is about 20 miles south of Knoxville.  Being south of Knoxville was a big factor in our decision to move here.  The main road which connects Maryville and Knoxville is I-140.  That is a quick and easy access to I-40 which leads west right into Nashville.  Avoiding Knoxville traffic on trips to visit family in Nashville is a real time and stress saver.

Maryville is a small town with a population of about 30,000.  It’s small, but large enough to have good groceries and restaurants.  It is also the county seat for Blount County making it convenient for those city and county government things.  The Knoxville Airport seems closer to Maryville than to Knoxville.  The Blount Hospital is only a few minutes away, but for major medical issues, University of Tennessee Medical Center is only about 30 minutes away.  Not only is the town small in population, it’s also small in area covering less than 20 square miles.  It seems like we can be anywhere we want to go in less than 5 miles.

Since we head out to the trail several days a week, being close to good hiking was a big factor in our decision for a place to live.  Maryville is about as close to the National Park as you can get without living in one of the gateway communities like Gatlinburg, Townsend, or Pigeon Forge.  We are only a 30 minute drive from our home to the Townsend entrance to the Park.  We are closer than that to Look Rock, but there isn’t much over there and fairly difficult to get to.  However, we can actually see the tower at Look Rock from the street which leads into our subdivision.  We are so close as the crow flies, in fact, that our subdivision is on the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of the Smokies.

In the scheme of things, Maryville is not that far from other great hiking areas.  By taking I-140 into Knoxville and heading east Asheville, NC and Pisgah National Forest are only a couple hours away.  By picking up the Blue Ridge Parkway either off I-40 in Waynesville, NC or from the Cherokee side of the Smokies, Shining Rocks area is also only a couple hours away.  The Roane Highlands are also within easy reach as are Mt Mitchell in NC and Grayson Highlands in southern Virginia.  The mountains of north Georgia are not that far away either.  There is certainly hiking to be done in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

So, we’re very happy with our new home town and expect to enjoy many years in the neighborhood.

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