Monday, October 16, 2017

Exploring Cade's Cove

In what was now a daily routine we checked the weather on the morning of day 3.


Ok. Hurricane Nate's path has shifted back to the east a little but it still looks like our houses will be ok, It might be raining harder than we thought on our drive home but there was no need to hurry so if it got bad we'd just stop somewhere.

We both agrees that skipping the geocaching event was a good idea because it would be raining in the mountains just when we would have arrived, meaning we might not have been able to do and see as much.

The storm would be over, with the possible exception of some rain, by the time we were ready to go home so all was well and our adventures could continue.

As we walked out of the hotel we saw a trash can that had been knocked over and dug through.

A bear was here! I can honestly say that if I hadn't seen the bears the day before I might have cried because while I was looking for a bear in the pool, I missed the bear on the porch.

Oddly, this hotel has regular trash cans instead of bear proof – which probably explains why there's a bear hanging around their parking lot at night.

After a pancake breakfast we were off.

Our first stop was Sugarlands Visitor Center where we hiked a beautiful trail to the John Ownby Cabin.




It's so easy to immerse yourself in the history of the area here and I could almost see the Ownby family going about their daily lives.




From there we drove on to Cade's Cove.

I was really proud of myself for making it to NewfoundGap without having a panic attack but this road was completely different.

The road leading to Newfound Gap was nice and wide with a guard rail and the feeling that there was plenty of room on both sides for cars coming and going.

The road to Cade's Cove was NOT my kind of road. I felt like the oncoming cars whipping around the curves were going to run us off the road at any minute.

And Dad wasn't much help. “Look over there. Hey there's a guy fly fishing in the creek.
Did you see those rocks?”

No, I didn't see anything because someone has to watch the road!

We went up to 5,000 feet yesterday and I didn't need a Valium but today we were only traveling to 1,000 feet and I was looking for a Pez dispenser to deliver Valium fast enough for me to make it up the mountain.

We passed a waterfall with a scenic overlook and he said “Oh I wanted to stop there” and then acted like he was going to turn around.

NO NO NO!” I did NOT want to turn around on that narrow road and after he made a u-turn on the side of Cheaha Mountain with a Snickers in his mouth and a Coke in his hand I knew I never wanted to be in the car when he made a u-turn again.

So we passed the waterfall and went on up into Cade's Cove.


Words can't describe how beautiful this valley is! I really enjoyed seeing everything we'd seen so far but once we got into the valley I felt like I was home.


Which is weird for a woman who's never lived farther than 10 miles from the coast. I've always said salt water runs through my veins but the views and serenity brought the same sense of calm and home that looking at the Gulf does.

I am truly the daughter of a son of a son of a sailor man but this area really spoke to me.



Once we got back to the car we drove along for a short while and then had a picnic at a scenic pull over.

It was incredible seeing the mountains circling us.




Wildlife in the Cove is abundant and a lot of people were watching the tree line for bear, deer or whatever else might wander into the field.

I've heard so many stories of bobcat, bears, and deer wandering the valley but all I saw was a squirrel. A grey squirrel – the exact same kind we have at home.


Interestingly, the fact that I didn't see anything on this day didn't bother me. I think the time we spent climbing the mountain cut into time we may have seen something but I'd seen bears, turkeys, elk and chipmunks yesterday.

I can say without a doubt, the adventure on the mountain was worth it. I also know that I will be back.

Soon.

After lunch we drove on the the Cade's Cove Primitive Baptist Church.




I would love to travel back in time and attend a service here.

The cemetery behind the church had some very interesting old graves but one in particular caught my eye.


Murdered by North Carolina Rebels?

I had to know that story so I did a little reading and discovered this and this.

No one knows for sure but interestingly, his son is buried right behind him in the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery.

There is also a Methodist Church 




As well as a Missionary Baptist Church.


I would have enjoyed wandering around more of the old cemeteries and cabins but my hip was screaming and the idea of walking anywhere wasn't appealing.

And as I said, I'll be back.

We made the loop and ended up at the Visitor's Center/Campground Store.

Sad to leave but armed with large cups of coffee we were off on our next adventure,

The sun rose and almost set and so far day 3 of our 10 day adventure was a success.


Little did we know that in a few short hours everything was going to change.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

An Epic Geocaching Experience in Cade's Cove

Our first stop in Cade's Cove was to find a virtual geocache. We didn't know what we were looking for but we had GPS coordinates and knew that whatever we found would be cool.

We were watching the GPS and right as we got even with the cache we saw a pull over spot and a trail leading up the side of the mountain.

This must be the spot.

We were 400 feet from the cache so up the mountain we went.

About 100 feet in the trail stopped. Literally. No more trail, no remnants of the trail, nothing.


We stood there for a minute while Dad looked at the GPS and pointed straight up the mountain from us.

Should we go back to the truck and find a real trail? Or should we just bushwack on up?

As a geocacher you can be assured that there is always a trail. There are a lot of times that we can't find the trail so we bush wack in but once we find the cache we can see the trail out.

So we looked up the mountain and then back down at the car and I said “It's only 300 feet, let's just go.”

The area wasn't dense so it looked like we'd just walk on up. Dad agreed and up we went.

Except, that was a really bad idea.

Bush wacking up a mountain is absolutely NOTHING like bush wacking in a flat state.

There were ravines, rocks, massive downed trees, steep climbs and what we would call log jams back home. Except these log jams weren't in a creek they were everywhere!


Snakes love log jams so I go around them at home but there was no going around some of these so we had to make our way through them, which was really sketchy.

Around this, over that, down a ravine, up a ravine – it was intense.

I have to give massive credit to my Dad. He's 81 years old and had major back surgery 8 weeks ago but he has more stamina than most 40 year olds. And definitely more than I have.

You don't see many people his age that can do the things he does and even fewer that could have made it up that mountain like he did.


After not quite 2 hours we were still 100 feet from the cache and there was still no sign of a trail.

We sat down to rest and Dad starts talking about park rangers finding a Jane Doe years ago, which immediately made me want to write my name on my arm in sharpie.

Then he says “Do you know what a Bot Fly is”?

Isn't that the fly that lays it's larvae in dead bodies and is a way to tell how long the body has been dead”?

Yep – and they're circling my head right now”

This was supposed to be a 30 minute, there and back, hike. I don't know the mountain version of Gilligan's Island's '3 hour tour' but we were damn sure on it.

Dad thought he saw a navigable path in one direction and I saw one in the other, both of which would end on a ridge we could see above us, so we split up. It took about one minute after he disappeared into the trees for me to regret that.

I knew he was close but still, I was suddenly alone on the side of a mountain. A mountain. I don't know diddly squat about being alone in the woods on a mountain.

Luckily, I heard him crashing through the woods and I wasn't alone any more.

Onward I went and then stepped in a hole. It was covered with leaves so I didn't see it and my entire foot went in. It was only about 8 to 10 inches deep but it was just enough so that all of my weight landed hard on my hip.

Great.

My hip is screaming and I'm limping along when I hear voices coming from the ridge we were trying to get to.

I'm going to be completely honest here and tell you that I almost yelled “HELP”

Instead I called out to Dad that I'd heard voices.

Hearing me yell must have given whoever it was a Banjo moment and I saw a flash of color. The must have turned around because their voices were suddenly getting farther away and they were moving pretty fast.

But I'd seen them so I knew where the trail we were looking for was and there was a good chance we'd make it to the trail and live to tell the tale.

Dad made his way over to me and about 20 minutes later we burst out of the woods onto the trail and at our exact destination.

A couple were standing there and we gave them a good startle when we burst out of the woods.

We were also standing in front of the virtual cache – which was really pretty but I can't tell you about because that ruins the “secret”.

And of course we walked back down a ten minute REAL trail and found that if we'd have driven another 100 feet we'd have seen this trail and would have been done hours ago.

In hindsight, I am SO glad we did it the hard way. We'd seen and done so many amazing things on this trip but this was truly an intimate look at what it's like there.

Walking a path is one thing but you really learn a lot about an area when you just head off into the woods.

We were battered but not beaten and we still had Cade's Cove to explore so back into the car and off we went.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Roaring Fork Motor Trail

When we got into Gatlinburg we went straight to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Along this drive is an historic cabin and nature trail that just happens to have a Virtual geocache.

Virtual caches are given as GPS coordinates just like a regular cache only at the location you will find something interesting to see and there is no container with a log to sign. Each virtual has questions about the location and are something that you can't know without actually going there. You get credit for these caches if you email the cache owner the correct answers.

Dad has found this cache before but loved the hike so much he wanted to do it again.

We turned onto the road and immediately saw a rafter of wild turkeys on the side of the road. They completely ignored us and he told me that him and my Mom were there once and he had to get out of the car to shoo the turkeys off the road.


Turkeys around here tend to be very skittish and I've only caught glimpses of them.

A few minutes later we came to a convertible stopped in the road.

We looked around, trying to see what they were looking at and after a minute I saw him.

A bear. A big bear.



I got out of the truck and walked up to the side of the convertible, trying to get a better look.

It was really only a glimpse before he wandered off but I SAW A BEAR!!!!!!!

I am still grinning like the village idiot almost a week later.

Back into the car and on up to NoahOgle's Place, the cabin we wanted to see.




The virtual geocache is located on the hiking trail here so Dad and I got our walking sticks and struck out on a hike down the trail from the old house to the tub mill on LeConte Creek.



Everything is much greener up there and of course there are lots of rocks.




I really like the rocks, although I couldn't make the thought that they could have Timber rattlesnakes under them go away.

We ran into two men on the trail who had some interesting camera equipment, on their way to photograph fish in the creek.

Which probably explains why the first thing I thought when I saw the camera was that it had a flounder light rig hooked up to it.

The old mill is really interesting and in good shape. The flumes the owner had constructed and the water wheel look like you could start them running again with just a little rehabbing.






Back up the hill we went and explored the barn and home of the Ogle family.



I always think about the people who settled whatever area I'm in and it's interesting to compare life on the Ogle farm versus life on the Florida coast in the late 1880s.

I know for sure that neither of them were easy.

We got back on the motor trail and a few minutes later saw a bunch of cars stopped on the road and about a dozen people standing on the side of the road, looking up the hill.

Naturally we stopped, got out, walked over to the people and looked up the hill.

BEARS!!!

A momma bear and her three cubs were in the top of a tree eating acorns.


About 20 yards from us.


It was as magical as swimming with manatee and wild dolphin the Pass (before that was illegal, of course)

Mom, Dad and I watched this on Nat Geo the night before we left Gulf Breeze and now I was seeing it happen right in front of me. They were eating acorns instead of berries but there was no difference.

Again, I had a short lens so I don't have beautiful bear photos but I was seeing them firsthand and that was enough – for now.

This experience deserves it's own post so I'll save that for later but I just thought I was happy to have glimpsed the male. After watching these four I was in hog heaven.

After about twenty minutes the sun moved behind the mountain and it was getting dark so we drove on to our hotel in Gatlinburg.

We stayed in at the Quality InnCreekside and as we were parking a hotel employee told us that a bear had been wandering the parking lot at night and was even in the pool a few nights ago so to be careful if we came out to our cars at night.

Each of the rooms had a private balcony and Dad's room had a beautiful view of the mountains BUT my room overlooked the pool.

I'm embarrassed to say how much time I spent sitting there waiting to see a swimming bear.

We went to Calhoun's and had an excellent steak dinner. It was only about 8 or so when we finished eating but we were too tired from our long day to wander Gatlinburg so we decided to go straight back to our rooms.

Truth be told, I really wanted to get back to that balcony.

I never did see a bear in the pool.


The sun set and the second half of day 2 of our 10 day adventure was a success. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cherokee North Carolina and Newfound Gap

Ok. So I am totally confused about when we did what and I think the picnic I said we had on Wednesday actually happened on Thursday.

At any rate, on the second day, Dad and I woke up in Rome and checked the forecast for Tropical Storm Nate.


It still wasn't a hurricane and potential landfall had shifted to the west of our homes but the “cone of uncertainty” still showed a rain/wind event coming to the area we were going to explore in the mountains and it was set to arrive on Sunday – this same day we were to leave Rome and go to the mountains.

We talked for a few minutes and in the end both of us decided we'd pass on the geo-event and leave for the mountains that morning.

That way we could explore and see what we wanted to see before the remnants of Nate arrived.

Off we went in the direction of Cherokee, NC. And now that I've looked at the map, I realize that's when we had the picnic at the dam.


As we drove north we drove along the Oconaluftee River we saw a lot of white water rafting outfitters and several groups of people rafting as we drove. 

That river trip would be awesome.


I'm definitely coming back to do that.

We got into Cherokee, stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and saw this sign.




Really? I've never seen elk and according to my Dad I'd have to go to the Cataloochee Valley to see them. According to my daughter I'd NEVER make it because the road would freak me out.

One of the Park Rangers told us some of that herd had migrated into this valley and there was one big bull they'd nicknamed Big Boy. Big Boy played a big part in populating this area with elk.

The Ranger also told us we'd know which one was Big Boy if we saw him.

It was the middle of the day so we weren't expecting to see any elk but then we heard an elk bugle.

Whoa. They are here now and must be right inside of the tree line.

We stood there for a minute and then a female stepped out into the field, followed by a bull.

They were a way off but Dad had binoculars so I got a good look at them.

Sadly, the zoom on my camera couldn't come close to you'll just have to believe there are elk in these pictures.



The bull was huge with a giant rack and we wondered if that was Big Boy.

A man and woman near us saw them, grabbed a bunch of camera gear from their car and immediately trotted out into the field.

Which really pissed all of the people standing behind the sign off because the elk immediately went back into the trees.

And the worst part was their camera had a MASSIVE zoom lens – meaning they could have taken amazing shots from behind the sign.

We could still hear them bugle and a minute later we saw two more over by the Indian Village.

That's when we knew the first one we'd seen was indeed Big Boy. He is huge compared to the other male we saw.

Of course “camera people” changed direction and scared them off too.

It was time for us to move on and we knew “camera people” were going to keep any more elk from coming out into the field so we got back into the car and up the mountain we went.

I saw elk! Which is a pretty cool.

Originally, we were going to visit Clingman's Dome but it's closed for renovation so we stopped at Newfound Gap right on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

The ride and destination were amazing. I enjoyed the views and because we were on a nice, wide road with guard rails I didn't feel like I was going to fall of the mountain.

I even mentioned to Dad that I'd made the entire ride to 5,000 feet and hadn't needed a Valium to do it.

The view was beyond stunning and I could have stayed there all day, just looking at the mountains.





But we still had miles to go and other things to see.

I didn't see this sign until we were leaving and there were cars behind us so we couldn't stop but I was extremely proud of myself for making it up there. I don't know who the man in the picture is but I wanted a picture of the sign.


From there we drove into Gatlinburg, enjoying the views and looking forward to our next adventure.

The sun rose and rested at the top of the sky and the first half of day 2 of our 10 day adventure was a success.