Thursday, April 27, 2017

Spring Hike With Michael ---Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

Showy Orchis Closeup

Spring Hike With Michael ---Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

Dana & Kenny Koogler & grandson Michael Lindsey

Saturday April 22, 2017

Pictures are here: Spring Hike Pictures

   We had not done any hiking with our eldest grandson lately. We asked him if he'd like to go
do some hiking with Nanny & Papaw in the Smokies? He jumped at the chance like we thought he
would.   We decided to do something fun and easy so we could play, eat lunch, and get out of the woods before the late afternoon rains in the forecast.   We started our hike near Elkmont.
The usual crowds were around, but we found parking and got our hike under way.
Michael is eight now and makes hiking look super easy.  His long legs and healthy little self find much of what we do not too challenging.   He ambled along asking questions and noticing lots of little things.  We stopped once near a trail intersection when we saw a group of fellow hikers.
They had a confused look we recognized very well.   I asked them where they wanted to go route
wise? They told me and I helped get them oriented.  They were appreciative and friendly.
Another group of ladies went on ahead of us.  We soon ran upon them again at the next trail intersection looking at the map and checking guidebooks.  I stopped and asked them if they needed help?  The one lady gave me a go to Hell look. Another one of the group affirmed they did need help.
In about a minute I confirmed for her they were going the right way. That was that.  

Eastern Blue Star was seen near the start of our hike.  I have come upon it several times before, but never in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park until today.  
  The day was mild and the skies clear and sunny so far.   The woods were beautiful and green.
The sun filtering down through the leaves was lovely.   Wildflowers were abundant, but we had missed the peak bloom on this trail.  No matter. We'd have to make the best of what was left. 
We let Michael play in the creek. We wandered off trail a little.  Michael was not too sure about that part, but he was a sport.    We used the time on the trail to instruct him on things relating to nature and navigation.   He paid good attention. I am glad he shows interest in so many aspects of hiking and the national park.  
             Michael being my sherpa. He is strong so he is helping his old nanny carry her stuff. ;-)


We were lucky to find Carolina silverbells growing near the ground.  It is one of my favorite flowering trees.  The very first time I ever saw it was on my first ever hike to Chimney Tops in the park.    IMG_1336
Time to play on the rocks and in and around the creek. 

Millipede in the trail. He has coiled into a defensive spiral.  


Michael and Pawpaw


Cluster of yellow trilliums


Showing Michael his very first Yellow Lady Slipper.  

YLS 2 closeup front on
Closeup of small yellow lady slipper.
We were blessed to find them in more than one location today.  
We took time to educate Michael about watching where you walk to avoid squashing wildflowers and plants.  We explained they are NEVER to be picked, dug up, or moved. We also explained to him that some unscrupulous folks will poach orchids. We must always be careful about revealing locations of wildflowers to people. Only take along folks you know and trust.  

Kenny had never taken this hike before and was hooked! He said he wants to go again!
Go ahead.. twist my arm. ;^D

     Once we finished up the first part of our day we were hungry.  We had planned that if 
the rain held off we'd do some more exploring after lunch.   We stopped at Elvira's Cafe' to eat on our way back through Wear's Valley.  It was tasty, but a little on the pricey side.  Kenny was not impressed enough to return.  $40 plus dollars for regular lunchtime fare is not going to lure him back.
The skies had clouded up, but it was not raining.  Everyone was still having fun and not ready for our day to be over.  We pushed on toward Cades Cove. Ordinarily we avoid Cades Cove during busy weekends.   We wanted to drive Rich Mountain Road today. It had only opened up Friday. 
It is a good place to play in the creek and hunt wildflowers. Last time I was there I saw a couple bears!  We hoped to see wildlife and have fun.   We were not disappointed.

           Traffic moved along amazingly smooth on the loop road.  We soon came to our turn for Rich Mountain Road.   We started out the one way gravel track and came to the first view along the route.
It was astonishingly beautiful today.  I had to laugh thinking back on an old friend relating the first time ever driving this road. It was after a bad wind storm brought down lots of trees across the one way road. Fortunately he was not alone and they had a chainsaw along.  They'd have been backing up or stuck for a long time.  Only funny because it did not happen to me! View into the Cove from Rich Mtn Rd

Looking off Rich Mountain Road back into Cades Cove on a bluebird day.

 We found several places to play in the stream, but this was the best one.  Michael is a creek wading, critter catching, rock throwing kid like I was.  He loves this sort of stuff.

Below is a video of the pretty creek and playing around in it.

   We saw some good wildlife on this part of our trip.
Michael found a mole salamander. Can you see him in the photo above on the leaves?

 While Michael and I were messing round over here finding morel mushrooms Papaw hunted them on the opposite side of the road.   He came back saying he'd seen a copperhead.  We walked over there to see for ourselves.  It was most definitely NOT a copperhead. It is the look alike Northern Water snake.  Nerodia sipedon. Harmless and sunning himself on the stream bank.

If you click on this photo it will enlarge. You can get a better look at the snake. Round pupil and skinny head.. non venomous.  No heat pits.  No hour glass shaped markings. Here is a link to help differentiate between copperheads and look alike species. Copperheads and Similar Species
All snakes within the National Park are protected species.  Michael is the kind of little boy who would take off after a snake trying to catch it if he knows it is harmless.  Today this was the coolest thing he saw and liked the most!   He talked about it a lot on the way home.

     We drove onward and saw some great wildflowers.  One moist , shady slope was laden with great white trilliums still in bloom, sweet white trillium, yellow trilliums, wild geranium, rue anemone, early meadow rue, fire pinks, stonecrop, nodding mandarin. Amid the white trilliums on that slope I spotted something odd.  I saw a trillium that had the coloring of Trillium simile.. sweet white trillium.. but it had recurved petals like Trillium sulcatum.  Those are more common in red, but I had seen them before in white.  They are fairly common in the Cumberland Plateau, but to my knowledge did not bloom in the park at all.   Yet there it stood.  Trillium sulcatum. A lone specimen as far as I could see.  It was beautiful and a good find.  I checked the ATBI list and found it was not reported.
I am not reporting it.  Last time I made an official report it started a bunch of pool-pah.

sweet white trillium vs southern white trillium

Trillium sulcatum --white form.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  As we drove along we saw a turkey. We also saw a scarlet tanager taking a bird bath in the ditch!
They are such pretty birds and it is only the second time I've photographed one.
Scarlet Tanager

       We finally grew near the end of Rich Mountain Road.  I mentioned stopping near the end to let Michael see Bull Sink.  We parked and walked the couple hundred yards down there to see the cave entrance.  I had told Michael the story of how it got its name. I also told him about a more recent occurrence of a dog falling in the sink entrance and having to be rescued.  He was intrigued, but cautious and I was very glad.  I want him to be enthusiastic about outdoors, but not a fool.
He got where he could see the entrance, but did not want to go any closer. The slope was muddy and slick.  The cave had the most water running into it I have ever seen.


Papaw walking down to get a closer look. The greenery around the cave is beautiful. It looks tropical! It is very cool that we drove right over this spot!

   The area around Bull Sink is good for wildflowers.  We saw several kinds blooming.  The rocks around it are mossy and green. Wild oats, dwarf larkspur, and green violet bloomed all around.


Deep purple dwarf larkspur


Pale lavender larkspur.  It is so pretty!


Mossy stones on the slope before Bull Sink.

 Finally we had to end our days adventure.  Papaw is still getting over his surgery and was tired.
The rain held off, but was beginning to sprinkle now.  We drove home and discussed the interesting things we saw today.  Michael had a great time and so did we. We needed one on one time with him. We need that with each of our grandchildren.  Each one is special and fun and we love them dearly.
We talked about plans and trips we want to take and things we want to see.  I hope my grandkids all
become daydreamers and more than that.......... they make those dreams come to reality!


  1. Thank you for your words concerning snakes. I think it's very important to keep on reminding folks that not every snake they see is poisonous. Not to mention most of the time, you're on their turf! Love your flower photos.

    1. You are welcome. Thanks for reading the blog and for commenting. Glad you liked the flower pictures. I like seeing snakes, but not being surprised by them especially the venomous ones. I am teaching my grandkids which ones to worry about and thankfully there are only a couple kinds in Tennessee. Rattlers and copperheads are easy to identify. We were at the Knoxville Zoo a few years back and Michael took off chasing a black snake that went across the sidewalk. It was a knee jerk reaction. He loves them!


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