Sunday, June 29, 2014

Blue Ridge Georgia --Mother -Daughter Trip

Mother-Daughter Trip to Blue Ridge, Georgia

Pictures are here: Blue Ridge Georgia Pix

    I have done a lot of talking about my son, Jared and his trials and the various trials
of our family on this blog.   One of the things that has happened unintentionally is that 
my lovely daughter Crystal has gotten pushed to the side.   The Prodigal Son is told about in the 
Bible. He leaves home and lives a wanton lifestyle. He repents. He comes home. He is accepted and loved and welcomed.  The story also mentions the dutiful son who has remained close and 
has not strayed or wronged anyone.   Thank the Lord for children who do NOT give us grief.
The individuals in this world who manage to not mess up and are on an even keel get 
overlooked at times.   My life and the life of this family began to calm down. I came to feel
I had some making amends to do on behalf of my child who had remained eager to please and 
NOT done anything to mess up.  

     Crystal has been a source of support , comfort and joy to myself and this entire family.
She managed to marry an excellent spouse.  She has a highly successful career. She is well respected in our community. She is involved in our church.  She is a fine Christian witness.
She has born two beautiful grandkids to enlarge our family.    She has welcomed quality friends
into her life that have in turn blessed my life and family.   I can count her a friend as well as
a daughter.   She was always a dear little baby and grew to be a funny toddler. She has always been more what I wanted to strive for.  She lacked many of the neurotic qualities I wanted to see
gone from me.   She knew how to laugh at herself and life.   I felt it was time to turn things
around and enjoy one anothers company while there was time.  

       She had wanted to visit Mercier Orchard in Blue Ridge, Georgia for awhile.
I thought it sounded like fun.  I was growing one dimensional again. I found myself going hiking
all the time.  I knew too much of a good thing makes one dull and life loses its luster.  
We planned a much needed Mother-Daughter trip.  She'd get a break from work, house, church, kids and I'd get to spend some time with my girl.  I'd remember how to be more like a chick instead of a dude!   

         I had packed the night before the trip and was ready to roll as soon as she got off work Friday.   We stopped and had a quick bite and come excellent conversation.   I have spoiled my grandson to the point he feels when I am around that HE is the only one I should converse with.  
 It was great getting to talk to Crystal without the interruption of kids.    One of the prettiest parts of the journey came from the drive down SR 68 going from Tennessee into Georgia.    I had been down that road before as far as Farner.  The countryside is beautiful the entire way.  The road is rural but passes through small towns.  It goes through the Overhill Territory of the Cherokees.
The pure beauty of the area will break your heart.   Imagine driving down along the deep green corridor in the gathering dusk.  The neat country lawns. Farms.  Pastures filled with jewels of orange butterfly weed.  The Hiwassee River tailwaters flowing slow and green.   Old abandoned homes faded and no longer occupied.  The roadside in some spots was lined with Seven Sisters Roses of pink and crimson spilling down like walls.  It was an ornamental rose planted decades ago that is considered a non native invasive, but to me it is just beautiful.  Whomever planted it
long ago is now gone and it flourishes. It lives on to decorate the by-ways. 

           The road passes by a few small stores that look more like what I was accustomed to
as a child.   One in the Ducktown area is a white, plain building but outside it is still clear that it is in operation.   They sell healthy plants, ornamentals and vegetable starts.   We passed the old Kimsey Junior College pump house.   We passed through Copper Hill, Tennessse and the next thing I knew the signage said we were in McCaysville, Georgia.  It seems to flow from one state to the next. One town to the next without a hitch. I had to check to be sure we had crossed the state line!    McCaysville, Georgia and this area are particularly interesting to me.  I want to go back
to visit this area again with camera in hand.    

       We were wishing the car would drive itself so we could be spectators.  Crystal drove.
I navigated to be sure the GPS.. Babala... did not steer us wrong. She has done it before. She tried to on this trip, but I had her covered.    We were awed by the setting sun over the Cohuttas.
It was one of those special moments in time that I will never forget.  Soft sunset colors of orange, copper, gold, pink, purple, lavender over deep blue green mountains.  We both agreed there is really nothing like being a Summer in the South. It is a benediction.   I am very proud of my 
Southern heritage as are my children.   I did not have the opportunity to take photos of 
these sights. I can simply describe them and share the few I did get of this part of our trip.

Orange jewel weed filled the roadside fields

Seven Sisters Roses spilling off of old fences and filling the roadsides 

   We arrived at the Blue Ridge Lodge which was our hotel. It was just as pretty and welcoming as the adds showed.    We were both very tired and glad to have come to the end of the road trip for today.     We had gotten a good deal on a suite.  We sat up and talked for awhile to unwind. 
The bed was so comfortable. It is not ever as good as my bed at home, but it was still good.

    The next morning we ate breakfast at one of the local establishments. It was the L & L Bakery & Cafe I think.  It was great! I would go there again.    We each tried a different type of quiche and sampled each others so we'd know which was best. It was hard to pick!   Coffee was good.
Fresh fruit.  It was marvelous.  We drove around the town and parked to get out and walk.  
We wanted to spend some time shopping.  We prowled around various shops checking out whatever struck our fancy. It was  a good change of pace for me.   Sometimes I need a reminder
to act more like a chick.   Crystal found her some perfect Chaco sandals at a gear store.
They were so helpful.  I did not have anything in particular I was hunting for, but I enjoyed seeing
all sorts of things.  

Crystal prowling one of the shops

Folk Art--wish I'd gotten this piece.

The outside of Sycamore Crossing

       Once we'd had enough of shopping we headed back out of the downtown. We went to the Mercier Orchard to pick fruit.   We had lunch at the cafe in the farm store.   It was great!
We checked out the massive store indoors and the farmers market.  We then went over to the U Pick portion to get ready to go pick fresh blueberries and cherries.   We got a ride on the wagon with the other guests and they gave us some instructions.  We picked our baskets full of both cherries and blueberries. They were our dessert too!   It is a lovely place and a fun, different way to spend an afternoon.    I was really glad we came here. I think we will return.

Mercier Orchard is a large place!

     We drove back to town afterwards and stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up the few things we'd gotten there without.   Back at the hotel Crystal painted her toes and mine.  We rested and lounged.   We dressed for dinner and she fixed my hair.   We had reservations at Christy Lee's Courtyard for 7:30 pm.     We arrived about 20 minutes early.  We went in and sat at the bar to have before dinner drinks.  They had live music inside and out!   My favorite song the fellow inside played was the song from "Fifty First Dates"  Over the Rainbow  
by Israel Kamakawi.  It was a good rendition.  It would bring a tear to your eyes it was so pretty.
Christy Lee's Courtyard during the day.   It is a nice place.

Crystal crossing over the street to Christy Lee's

     We sat at the bar with other patrons for a few minutes and soon they seated us.  We had a good table and a great server.   The entertainment and food was splendid.   Crystal had cedar planked salmon and I had seafood pasta. We enjoyed a glass of moscato.   It was a good dinner with a nice atmosphere and conversation.   I am proud to say I enjoy conversing with my daughter. She is an interesting person and always improving her knowledge. She has many facets.    We finally tore ourselves away and walked around town a little bit.  The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway Train sat outside the restaurant.   I have a weakness for trains.  How can you be from Vesuvius and not have a jones for the train?   
Sun setting over the train and its tracks.

Crystal by the train.  I had a grand time with my daughter! 

     We were tired so we went back to the hotel and watched tv and read and talked.  We slept and got up the next day to head home.     We planned to meet the men and children in Chattanooga for Father's Day Lunch.    We had breakfast at the lodge in the complimentary breakfast kitchen.
It was so so.  It was just really crowded, but it was free and it made it possible for us to eat and get going on time.     I won't fool with that breakfast again and that crowd, but it was the only negative thing I have to say about the place.   I would definitely go back!   


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Quick Hike After the Rain.... Plan B. Little Greenbrier Trail and Little Brier Gap

Tangerine colored flame azaleas along the trail.
Little Greenbrier Gap and Little Brier Gap Trails
Thursday June 12, 2014
Dana Koogler solo
4 miles round trip
Pictures are here: Little Greenbrier Trail Pix

I had originally planned to hike to Spruce Flats Falls with my daughter, grandson and granddaughter.
I had been eager to show Michael and Tessa the wonders of the mountains close to home ever since realizing
he was capable of making a longer hike. I was eager to see how she responded to the things she would encounter. She seemed to like the trail thus far. I went out to the jeep to pack it up with our stuff and realized it was raining steadily. The forecast called for rain all morning and into the afternoon. I called Crystal and after a short discussion we chose to wait. The hike we picked was close to the house and short so it was not going anywhere. I did not want them to have a negative experience on the trail. I was a little
disappointed, but it was no big deal. I always have plans A, B, C, D, E and F.
I did some things around the house and after eating a quick lunch I noticed the rain had stopped.
I tried to call Lydia and Crystal but did not get an answer from either of them. I decided I'd get out for a
short leg stretcher. My muse was calling me again. I could hear the siren song of native orchids calling to me from the mountains. I had to go see for myself. I love Summer hikes in the Smokies.
June is the month of too many wildflowers to see them all.

One point along the trail where it is pine straw under foot.

The trail goes up and up but it levels off eventually. The ascent is gradual. The tread under foot
is very even most of the way and changes from gravelly to pine straw. The woods here today were cool and the air was fresh. Along this hike I was treated to the scent of rain, earth, pine needles, citrus, flowers, and curry spice. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains in any season is grand, but
Summer has its own rewards. I climbed steadily upward with the path winding and switching back. I was treated to partial views from the trail in a couple directions. The Little Greenbrier
Trail is a boundary trail in the park. It sits right along the line between what is public land and private. Markers differentiation the border. Along the part that is private there are a number
of side trails leading off to the left heading in. I check them all every time I hike this trail.
It turned out to be a good thing. You'll see later.

I was going along and enjoying myself when something strange caught my eye.
A dead pine tree with a knothole had something weird happening. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Something was oozing out of the tree. A snake. The tree was oozing snake.
A copperhead was pouring itself out of the tree and into the brush. His head was already out.
His body flowed out after it. I tried to videotape it but the viewer on my camera and my own

nervousness made that attempt unsuccessful. I chose instead to get past him quickly while he was occupied. I dashed past him and stopped to look back. I got a good eye to eye contact with him.
I then looked around for landmarks. I wanted to be aware where he was on this trail for my return
trip since I was doing an out and back. My mind was thinking later on the hike of ways I could avoid hiking back past him. I considered hiking down to the Walker Sisters and the old school and either seeing if I could get a lift from someone back to my car or walking back out that way?
I quickly dismissed that idea. I reasoned that he might not even be there by the time I came back.
Spreading pogonia along the hike.
I began seeing beautiful wildflowers along the trail and that certainly helped take my mind
off snakes. I was watchful, but I relaxed and enjoyed my hike. I saw lots of flame azaleas but
they were past peak. Some of the azaleas looked positively melted. I saw the first of the Rosebay rhododendron of the season just starting to bloom. It was not in a position where I could get any sort of decent shot of it. I could smell it before I saw it!

Flame azalea along the trail.

A huge chestnut oak spreading its limbs out over the trail.

I continued on toward the trail intersection with Little Brier Gap. I had planned to turn and hike
down the trail toward the Walker Sisters for a short distance. I probably added another mile to the hike in total by doing that. I was seeing that the mountain laurel and flame azaleas along this stretch of the trip were done for the season. I saw a few bold yellow star grass flowers and some yellow composites. The sun was coming out bright and bold. The sunbeams filtered through the tree canopy in some spots. Other places were deep green and dark from the forest gloom.
I have learned to appreciate all of the various aspects of the light in these woods.

Sun coming out.. skies clearing to blue!

I love looking down the trail and seeing the various hues of blue and green in Summer. The same spot may change appearance drastically in the course of an out and back hike! As KT's Momma would say "Learn to Love It!" I know she's right. She don't play! :-)

I love the red dirt trail and the sun filtering through. Subtle changes along the way.

I sat down at the intersection to cool off a little and take a break. I rested and ate a snack and had something to drink. I just enjoyed the quiet. I could hear only the birds singing and the bees buzz. It is worth mentioning to watch out for yellow jackets. I saw that the banks along the trails in this area are just full of yellow jacket nests. Seeing them today brought back to mind that I have seen them here before and they are even thicker down toward the old school and the Walker Sisters home place. I saw goats rue in white and pink like an old housecoat of mine!
I began my return hike and was admiring the deep green coat of velvet moss along the edges of the trail.

Mossy Trail

I hiked real slow and watched closely for Mr. Copperhead. I was super careful.
I saw a turkey, a groundhog, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, a cardinal, a goldfinch, and a wood thrush so far today in addition to the snake. I recognized the area where the snake had been
without a single moments hesitation. I knew this was it. I checked around to see that I did
not step on or surprise him. I first thought he was gone, but a second later I spied him. He was
sleeping in the same spot by the trail. He was very content in the sun and never stirred.

Sleeping copperhead

Once I had passed the snake spot I was more at ease. I still watched for all his brothers and sisters since I seem to be the Snake Goddess. I am like a magnet for them anymore. I did stop at the side trails along the hike out. I was rewarded for my efforts with this!

Newly constructed viewing platform on the private side of the trail. Whoever did this did a marvelous job. There is a path coming to it. Below it are benches for sitting. It is very cool.

The view out across Wears Valley from the platform. It reminds me of a Currier & Ives painting
on my mom's china plates. Scenes of pastoral life. I sat here enjoying the breeze and the view for awhile. It was lovely. It feels good to enjoy solitude and not have to be in a hurry or be anywhere!

I resumed my hike out and heard a puffing sound. I saw something in the trail ahead of me.
It was a cute terrapin. He was puffing air to scare me. I acted real scared.

Box turtle in the trail

I cruised on out to the jeep. I unlocked it and stowed my gear. I got in and sat down and turned the air conditioner on. I took two or three minutes to cool off and review my photos before I planned to head home. Everything had gone along pretty good today thus far. I had a grand hike and was real tickled with it but things went south quickly. My jeep began idling rough and
grew worse and worse. I turned it off to see if that would help smooth it out. It did not help it.
It did not want to go. I could not get it to go in gear or anything. I got to thinking about Joel Osteen's mom being a woman of faith. I put my hands on the dash after many attempts to get the jeep to go I decided to pray for it. That is what she would have done. So I tried it.
It did not work. I tried it again and it did not work. I reached for my purse to call for help.
No cell phone. I had forgotten and left it at home. I had known I would need to stop and put gas in the jeep before I drove home. I planned to do just that in Wears Valley. The tank had gas, but I was parked downhill. Could that have anything to do with this problem?

No worries. I was not far from homes here. I could hear someone cutting the grass with a riding mower. I locked the jeep and walked toward the first house. I drew near it and saw a man sitting flat on his behind in the weeds and I was going to have to walk past this dude. I was uneasy.
He was watching me head his direction. A van was approaching with a couple in it. I stuck my thumb out and waved them down. I explained to them what was going on and asked them for help.
They took me in their van the few feet back to my vehicle. I used the ladies cell phone and called my family. They were going to send help for me. The lady asked me if I had tried praying over the jeep. I told her I had. She decided we should try that again so I humored her. Long story short ... my daughter got hold of my son in law Adam. He was nearby anyway. He came and helped me. The jeep would not go even after putting gas in it. He rescued me and took me home. My husband Kenny took me back over to the jeep later that night and we put more gas in it and finally it was enough that it could pick it up in that position. We used the night time trip to enjoy the fireflies in Wears Valley!

Later I was somewhat in the dog house with my family. I told them about praying over the jeep. I also told them of course it did not work. I told them what the Lord had to say to me.
He told me (imagine the voice of Hank Hill's Korean neighbor Khan) "You ASS! I not fix jeep.
You put enough gas in jeep! You no park down hill no more! You tell somebody where going! You take along cell phone! " So the take away on this is be prepared!

Below is a short video of the view of Wears Valley from that platform.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Andrews Bald Hike --Another Go Smokies Hike!

Catawba Rhododendron blooms

Andrews Bald Hike--Another Go Smokies Hike!
Friday June 6, 2014
3.6 miles round trip 

Dana & Kenny Koogler
Marlene & George Denton
Betsy & David Lee
Duane & Darlene Allen
*cameo appearance by Ranger Pam Rogers & her spouse! 

Pictures are here starting with frame 67:
( Photos are a combination of two trips) 
   I think everyone who really likes hiking and wildflowers would agree that June
in East Tennessee is maddening!  The amount of stuff there is to see and places you want to go to
be sure you don't miss anything would have you running around like a chicken with its head cut off!
I had been consoling myself joking that I'd just have to wait until I'd quit my job to see it all.
My friend Betsy is enjoying her retirement and just shot that argument down. She reminded me that
even with her retiring she was still going mad trying to fit it all in!   I think truth be told it is just
an overwhelming passion for the outdoors for folks like me and there is no cure. But then I don't want
to be cured of this.    Below is a list of some of the things me and some others think we must
Barney Fife out in the month of June. 
  • Native orchid bloom time all over the Smokies and East TN
  • Flame azaleas & Catawba rhododendron bloom on Andrews Bald in the Smokies.
  • Native hybridizing azaleas blooming on Gregory Bald in the Smokies.
  • Native hybridizing azaleas on Hooper and Huckleberry Bald in the
  • Cherokee National Forest
  • Catawba rhododendron and flame azaleas blooming on Roan Mountain
  • And if that wasn't bad enough...... Darlene Allen showed me pictures of
  • purple fringed orchids blooming on the far side of the Smokies.  :-)
  It still drives me mad and makes me jealous and I want to see it all. I am just going to have to accept that there are only so many hours in the day. I will have to pick SOME of it and not ALL of it.
               Andrews Bald is an easy hike coming in at only 3.6 miles round trip.
Kenny was finally home from working out of town in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He was craving
the mountains in the worst way after being down there in the flat lands and swamps.  He took off
work a day in order to join us all on a Go Smokies hike to the bald to see the blooms.  I had bragged
about all the nice friends I was making and fun I was having. Kenny had met some of these good people.
I wanted him to get to know more of them.   I was pleased it was going to work out .

           We met up at Sugarlands Visitor Center and figured out car pool details.  We were not in a huge
hurry seeing as how it is a relatively short hike.    We headed up to Clingman's Dome to begin our trek.
It is always busy up there. Today was no different.  I did not realize all the changes they have made to
the Clingmans Dome area.  The bathrooms are now converted to vault toilets.  The former bathroom building  is now a book store according to Duane Allen.  I will have to check that out next time.  I bet
our grandson Michael would enjoy making it to the top of Clingman's Dome Lookout Tower!

      We gathered our gear and got it together and soon we were on the trail.  I noticed Marlene visiting with a lady and a man as we waited for each other to be ready to hit the trail.  Turns out
that is ranger Pam Rogers and her spouse.   I did not talk to them at that time, but was fortunate enough to meet them later in the day. 

     Andrews Bald is reached by hiking along Forney Ridge Trail. The hike out  
to the bald has never been a particularly difficult one, but the trail improvements they 
have made are just the best!  The rocky places just down below the dome at the start of it were uneven and slippery. It made for slow going.   No more worries about that!  It is more even tread and I loved it.   The forest here is deep and dark hiking through the balsam zone of spruce and firs.   It is a "Red Riding Hood Forest".  Marlene kept looking for trolls and elves and goblins.  The birch trees grew on stilted roots.  The rocky crags along the trail were coated with moss and lichen.   It is cool and dark in spots. At other points along the trail there are good views toward Fontana Lake.   The fog lifted and swooped around the dome, the trail and the bald today. We saw lots of yellow clintonia blooming along the trail today. Some of them were very tall!

Shaconage at Clingmans Dome.  The Smoky Mountains are the Land of Blue Smoke.

Forney Ridge Trail heading toward Andrews Bald 


Betsy hiking along just ahead of me. 

       We came to the intersection with Forney Creek Trail where it turns right. 
It is a notorious trail for finding jettisoned gear.  Folks drag all sorts of crap down the trail then find they are far less interested in hauling it back out!  I had heard this about it, but until today I had not seen it for myself.   We saw three bags of stuff that was a tent, trash etc. folks had chosen to leave out in the woods.  It had been bagged to be hauled out. I was criticized by my husband 
for saying I'd help haul it out on the way back.  He seemed to think when I tested the weight of 
the bags that I was going to haul it out to the bald with me.  Uh.. no.  Just thinking ahead here.
We had another short uphill pull and we were there! 




Andrews Bald..  one of my favorite scenes from today.

Both flame azaleas and catawba rhodos mingled

     I prowled around the bald alone for a few minutes.  I joined the group out in the main area and sat down to eat some lunch and rest.   It was comfortable out here today.  I had brought a jacket but found I did not need it.    Once I had rested a tiny bit and eaten a quick PBJ sammidge I was ready to go again.   We were a little early for the bloom but it was still beautiful up here.
I prowled around in the edges and found plenty of azaleas in shades of orange and lots of deep purple catawba rhododendrons blooming.   It was too early for purple fringed orchids up at this elevation, but I was still having a good time. I also found upon returning home and looking at photos that we were truly late for the bloom season last visit here.  It was a good time, but
earlier is better.  My memory colors things up differently sometimes. Photos help refresh my memory and correct false assumptions.  We were late enough that what blooms we did see were
rather brown and crispy at the edges on the orchids so it was good to get on up here now!

         A stroll down to the lower sides of the bald down Forney Ridge proved to have lots more azaleas.  We had seen a bear run across Clingmans Dome Road on the way in.  I also saw a hummingbird zipping around the azaleas while up here!  I saw several pretty butterflies and lots of bees were nectaring in the blossoms.   

Flame azaleas on the lower slopes of the bald.

Watch the clouds swirl around us ..........

...And then clear skies once more! Sunny day on the bald.

            Everyone had plenty of time to explore and check things out and take pictures.
I probably added another 1/2 mile or so onto the hike because I went all the off the bald and re-entered the woods on Forney Ridge.    I would like to explore Jerry Bald sometime which is further out the ridge.  I can't find any info on it.   I am curious.  Once everyone was done exploring
we met back on top the bald and sat and snacked and talked and soaked up the sun.
Finally we got up to begin our hike back to the Clingmans Dome Parking area.

Another view of beautiful flame orange blooms

           The hike back did not seem bad at all.  I think the conversation had the most to do with that. Plenty of rest stops along the way.  The trail improvements help maintain a steady pace.   Made it a lot easier for me.    We stopped to chat with some fellow hikers Jim Hamilton and Gene Miller.
Very nice gentlemen and interesting conversationalists.    We stopped at the intersection with Forney Creek again to haul out trash. Pam Rogers and hubby were there with us!  He was wearing an external frame backpack that was empty to haul this stuff out.  Some other hikers had decided they'd take the bagged tent and use it so they took the heaviest item out with them!  How wonderful.   We ended up not having to help tote out any of it which suited me fine. We did laugh at the prospect that before we got back to the parking area we might still find that tent along the trail.
Turns out the people really did keep it!

              We took our time. Trudging on and on. We stopped to enjoy some of the views.
The clouds had parted allowing us to see Fontana Lake in the distance.   Kenny and David said they saw four hawks flying around over us.   I missed that.   It seemed like no time and we were popping out at the crush run portion of the trail just below the parking lot.   Back up we climbed
and the view from up here was quite pretty!  

View from Clingmans Dome parking area after the clouds lifted

         We stowed our gear. Visited and talked with one another. Changed shoes.
Cooled off.   At last we grudgingly went our way back down the mountain.     Back home until the next time.  I'm already looking forward to the next time.  A great day with friends on the trail.
I was tickled that Kenny really hit it off with everyone. I knew he would. I'm proud of him and 
wanted him to get to know these folks and them to know him.   He's a good guy and a fun person.
I can already see the effect the company of these crazy, funny, interesting people are having upon him.  The benefits are enormous.  David has talked him into getting that canoe I wanted.
I have listened to him brag to several different people at church about what a good time, how impressed he was with Davids accomplishments, etc. I see in my Crystal Ball of the Future........
Many many good times with our buddies on the trail...... off the trail...... and on the lakes and rivers!      I can hear it now. Whose idea was this anyway? We're lost.  Whew... a 1600 foot climb. I'm in!   

         I leave you with a short sketchy video of Andrews Bald. I am still learning about this camera's ability to videotape.   The images are crisp and the depth is amazing HD quality. The camera lacks the steadiness and ease of handling and zooming that my Nikon has. I will have to figure a way to compensate for it.  

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Smokemont Loop Hike and Chasteen Creek Cascade-- A Go Smokies Hike!

Flame azalea on Smokemont Loop
Smokemont Loop Hike & Chasteen Creek Cascade
The Whiners Hiking Club
Dana Koogler
Marlene Denton
Jeff Cole
Duane Pierce
Betsy & David Lee
Cheryl & Curtis Travis
Mitch & Rhonda Reagan
* making a cameo appearance but not hiking
GW "Five Dollar George"  Denton
Duane Allen
Sunday June 1, 2014
7 miles round trip
Pictures are here: Smokemont Loop Hike
       We met up at Sugarlands Visitor Center a 9 a.m.   We hung around a little while talking and visiting and making sure everyone who was going had arrived.   We all thought it was odd that
Marlene & GW were later than anticipated.   Turned out it was because they were having vehicle
difficulties.   The PT Cruiser got to spitting and sputtering on the way there.  GW was concerned
enough about it making it home he decided it was best if he headed back home with it while it was daylight. It is bad enough to deal with a thing like that in broad daylight much less when you are
worried about it getting dark!

      Duane Allen was heading to CS 83 down on Hazel Creek. He stopped by to greet us and shake hands.   We decided to do some car pooling out of concerns over how much parking space would be available at Smokemont Campground.   We drove over to start our days adventure.  I rode with Duane Pierce and Marlene.    We had a nice day to be out. It was supposed to be a little overcast
and cooler.  I always appreciate that at this stage of my life. 
Parking, gathering gear, bathroom breaks all over with at last. We walked down through the campground to begin our hike at the big bridge end of Smokemont Loop to hike it clockwise.
We wanted the 1,500 foot elevation gain out of the way first.  Everything after that is so much easier!

      We took group photos at the bridge. The Luftee was flowing healthy today.  



Oconaluftee River flowing past beneath the bridge. Mountain laurel was so pretty today!

Pictures and people!  

      The trail is a climb but it is gentle, well graded, beautiful and here in the Bright and Sunny South.. we believe in a thing called "switchbacks".    The air was  nice and cool which helped.
The company was good.  We chatted and joked and I did what I usually do in an uphill climb.
I got quiet. I huffed and puffed!    We continued along checking out wildflowers and trees along the way.  The trail had a lot of mountain laurel blooms fallen on it.  Peak bloom was past, but there was still some pretty mountain laurel to be seen. We also saw some flame azaleas in shades of orange and one in a very different yellow!  A hike here a month ago would have
been a nice display of trilliums and other Spring ephemerals.  

        We  had partial views along the way.   The day was overcast and a few drops of rain fell
on us when the wind blew.  It was just moisture off the tree canopy above from rain earlier in the morning and the previous night.

The Gang on the trail

       One thing I found out as did Betsy... those older trail guides that claim this wildflower or that is on a given trail are NOT to be trusted!    Don't ever use that as a frame of reference unless you want to be sent on a huge snipe hunt.    We could tell we were gaining elevation and the terrain was changing.  We met a few other hikers coming the opposite way.   It wasn't long until we could hear a road off in the distance to our left.   We arrived at the top! No more climbing!    Once we all got caught up we decided to stop and eat lunch on the trail.  I was glad for a chance to eat, drink, rest and cool off.

         We continued on after lunch and at this point it was a gradual downhill. 
The trail ambled ever down the mountain around ridges and we came to one area that was
very wet and springs of water seeped out.  A short time later we began to hear the roar of Bradley Fork.  The stream was flowing along well and I was very glad to see it was going to be a bridged crossing!  The banks of the stream here tell a story.  The stream banks are covered with a largely undisturbed carpet of deep green moss.   The area is not real heavily traveled.
We met quite a few hikers on the trail today coming the opposite direction, but I don't get the feeling the area around this stream sees heavy use or off trail travel.

Bradley Fork

The long long foot log across Bradley Fork. It is very bouncy!
    Once we crossed the foot log over Bradley Fork we all took a rest and catch up break.
We headed in the direction of the Chasteen Creek Trail.  I was surprised to find it was only 1/2 mile further along.   It was a very easy walk from the junction and we all voted to go up to see the cascade.
It was another easy 0.7 miles up to it and well worth the effort to see.   It is a low, wide cascade that is hard to get a good picture of.  It is mossy and we were the only ones there. 

Chasteen Creek Cascade

        We wrapped up our visit to the cascade and gradually began the hike back to the campground and parking area to close the loop today.    It was a scenic, easy end to the trek.
The weather had been cooperative. We did not get rained on. It was not too hot.  Everyone seemed to be in good spirits.   I had forgotten just how beautiful this area is. I hope to get back over here solo sometime to check out things in my own leisurely fashion.    I realize I make concessions when I hike with others. I try not to take too many photos or lag behind too much on the trail.  It is not the time for it.  I want to go along and get along so I am a good hiking companion and get asked back again!    For me the time for my self indulgent exploration and artistry is during times of solo hiking or with a companion who is there for the same thing.

           We arrived back at the vehicles and stowed our gear.  It was time for a dry shirt.  Time to change from hiking boots into sandals.  Time to rest and cool off.  And most of all... time for birthday cake!  Betsy Lee makes the most indulgent, wonderful cococola cake ever!  Yum! So we wished Betsy a very Happy Birthday!  She shared some of that divine cake with us and man was it good!
Time for cold drinks and visiting a bit.  Rhonda took time to show me some of her photographs
she's had success in marketing. She really is a talented photographer!

        We said our good-byes for the day and gave hugs and parted to go our various ways.
Marlene and I headed back across the mountain with Duane.   He's a good driver and even riding
in the back seat I was ready for a nap.  I was too interested in talking to him and Marlene to sleep and maybe miss something.   Its always interesting to meet new people and learn about them.
The hike today seemed short because it was fun and the company was good.  The ride back across the mountain seemed like mere minutes for the same reason.   I am pleased to get up with these
wonderful folks and spend time building friendships with them!

    Here is a short video of the end portion of the hike. I really like how it came out.
The scenery made it easy to prepare a can't miss video.  The music selection is mellow and lighthearted. Kind of like the day.  Today was another beautiful addition to the engrams in my head!
Collect moments!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Grotto Falls Hike with the Family

Grotto Falls Hike With the Family
Memorial Day Monday May 26, 2014
3 miles round trip
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
Dana "Nanny" Koogler
Crystal, Michael and Tessa
Pictures are here: Grotto Falls Pix

    Crystal and I had planned to take the children and go hiking on Memorial Day Monday.
All the men in the family were out of town so we did our own thing.   Today would be Tessa's first hike ever. She is eight months old and a little thing. She'd be toted in a papoose. 
It would be the longest hike thus far for grandson Michael age five.  I met Crystal at her house.
She lives near me.  We loaded the vehicle up and away we went to the National Park.

        I like hiking to Grotto Falls, but it is one of those that everybody and their brother goes on.
It is nearly always crowded.    We did not get an early start by choice.   We still managed to find parking though it was down the road a bit from the trail head.    We packed diapers, baby food, sippy cup, toys, etc.
All the trappings you take when you take a baby and a preschooler on the trail.   The thing I forgot today
that I had never forgotten before?  The SD card in the camera!  I was lucky in that I still got a few photos and  one video from the day on the camera's internal memory. I also got about half dozen photos from Crystal that she took with her cell phone camera.  It is enough to at least post a trip report that represents the days events.   

       Michael had been so excited about going hiking to a waterfall he had trouble eating much at the house.
We had no more gotten on the trail when he decided he had to eat something.  We stopped and he sat down on a rock and ate half a peanut butter sandwich.  He felt better and off we started again.  We saw lots of people, but at least they were all nice and in a good mood.  It was a family environment which is one redeeming thing about such a heavily traveled trail.  I also find it a little comforting sometimes to have people around.   It is somewhat reassuring.   I had cautioned Michael not to wander off because of bears.  I had given him some instructions about what to expect in the forest.  He did an excellent job of listening the entire time!  We did not see any bears or snakes today and that suited me fine.  

       The Trillium Gap Trail is the one that takes you up one and one half miles to Grotto Falls. It is
uphill the entire way, but the trail has many switchbacks.  It is well graded and that helps a lot.  We
had a little whining along the way about "Are we there yet?" and about being tired.  It was ok. Crystal had
a good point that we needed to do more of it so we'd all get used to it.  She was right.   Today's hike turned out like some others I've taken to Grotto Falls. I would be hiking along and suddenly realize that mile and one half  had flown by and we were there!!  Woo Hoo.  

        Tessa had been funny today. I wondered how she would be? I wondered if she would like hiking?
She DID!  Very much so.  She growled. She flirted. She wanted to carry the trekking pole and did for a good part of the way.   She kept fighting Crystal for control of it!  Finally she had to stop and put Tessa on her back.  Once she was back there it was easier on Crystal to carry her, but she could not reach the hiking
pole any longer.  Michael had sung when I toted him on my back and took him hiking.  He'd sing and throw his pacifier down on the trail.  I'd have to hunt it on the way back.   

Crystal, Michael and Tessa at Grotto Falls

Tessa looks out from her backpack

Michael in front of Grotto Falls

      We arrived at Grotto falls and it was pretty.   It had a decent amount of water coming over it.  
We had trouble getting photos of it without someone in the way.  Loads of people there. Climbing around on rocks.  I persuaded Michael to walk behind the falls. He did not want to do it at first, but
he was finally convinced. He was very proud of himself after he'd made it there and gone behind the waterfall! I was proud of him too.   

      We had to feed Tessa a container of baby food on the trail before we could head back.
She had a dry diaper and we had just gotten her back in her papoose when the rain came!
We got rained on for three or four minutes. It was just enough to cool us off for the hike back.
Tessa's hair was plastered to her little head. She whimpered at first, but then the rain stopped.
She got tickled when she thought about what happened to us and began laughing. She's a very 
good sport to not let it bother her.   We all survived our drenching.  

      The trail was pretty and the air smelled fresh and cool.  The smell of Summer was in the air now.  Green and growing things.  Moisture. Earth.  We saw some pretty mountain laurel blooming 
along the trail.   We made it back to the vehicle without any problems.  We loaded up and 
began our trip back toward Gatlinburg. We planned to eat dinner. Nanny treated everyone to dinner at Calhoun's.  

     We  had fried trout. My favorite!    We all ate too much and enjoyed excellent food and service.
It is such a relaxed atmosphere.  The kids were sweet and funny and well behaved.  They ate well. Michael is the world's best big brother. He loves that sissy.  She hollers Nan na na, Ma ma ma and Bubba! She doesn't have a single tooth yet, but gummed some trout, pretzels in beer cheese, bread and  bits of baked potato!  She was hollering mmmm!  Like Michael used to do.  

What a happy day. I can hardly wait til the next time to go hiking with my family.

     Here is a list of a few family oriented trips that would be fun and easy to do.

  • Mingo Falls
  • Pioneer Farm at Oconaluftee
  • Soco Falls
  • Flat Creek Nature Trail
  • Spruce Flats Falls
  • Lynn Camp Prong
  • Laurel Falls
Below is short video of Grotto Falls and Michael playing