Thursday, May 25, 2017

Spring Picnic

I think I've heard it called the Beginning of Season Picnic too.  This one was held at the Twin Creeks picnic pavilion in Gatlinburg. I was determined to get there early this year so we would not be last in line (yet again) and not get much food. We made it.  The speeches had not even started yet.

There was a big crowd, as usual. This is only a partial crowd shot.

Linda and Deborah were standing just inside the pavilion and called to me.

It was really cold!  I wore a jacket, my Marathon winter coat, but it didn't do the job.  My hands and feet were cold.  Linda had on a heavy park uniform jacket and she was still cold.  It was colder inside the open-air pavilion than it was outside.

When he gave a talk, we learned that Ranger Heath is now the president of the park employee (recreation?) association.  He announced the upcoming events for the year, thanked the people who worked to get the picnic organized, and praised his predecessor. He is wearing that bright t-shirt because he was teaching a search and rescue (SAR) course.

Clay Jordan is the park's Deputy Superintendent.  He was previously the Chief Ranger. He pointed out that the picnic is to welcome the seasonal employees.  A large number of the park employees are seasonal.  We campground hosts are included even though we are unpaid.

Then I realized that Linda had been strategically standing at the beginning of the food table.  When they announced that it was time to eat, we had but to turn around to pick up our plates and start filling them.  This year, for the first time we have attended, there was food in all those dishes!

After we ate, Clyde and Deborah showed us an interesting spot in the woods.  I didn't get a close-up picture because it was too wet and muddy to get there without walking over wet logs.  Deborah said that last year's fires have exposed all kinds of things in the forest.  This was an old spring house.

The walk to it was also interesting.  Because people lived in the area before the park was created, there was vegetation you don't normally find in the forest.  We saw a plum tree loaded with fruit, but there was too much brush to get to it easily.  We walked by a healthy patch of garlic. The tiny stream that ran from the spring had a lot of watercress in it.  I would have harvested a handful if it had not been so muddy.

We were parked next to this barn.

blog post draft

I apparently started writing a post and then forgot and started a new one.  I don't know when.  I just saw this draft in my blog post list.  I'm still wondering what happened to the food.

On the radio:

A park employee reported two coolers full of food in the middle of the road and asked dispatch what he should do with them.  Dispatch deferred to a ranger who said to take the coolers to the ranger station. I am pitying the party that lost the coolers.   Where are they going to be when they discover their loss?  - on the far side of the park or in a nearby picnic area? They may turn around to search for them, in vain.  Will they have the presence of mind to call the park to report their lost lunch?  If they do, will they have a phone signal?  How long would the food sit in the ranger station before the Rangers can eat it?  Or, will they have to wait until it spoils and then just throw it away?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Around Big Creek and a Book Milestone!

We saw a patch of blue sky in the morning!  It has been dark, damp, and raining for days so I was thrilled to see the blue.  It did not last long though. By the time we got to the campground, the sun was gone. I took this picture from the parking lot, where we have a little more sky.

I took this picture standing on Site 10.  Big Creek is about two feet above normal and the little side stream (bottom right) is rushing.  Normally, it is barely a trickle.

There were some creative campfire builders in Site 3.  They were gone and had left this stack of wood atop the fire ring.

I don't know if they were the same ones who chopped off some of this tree along the creek path.

The creek path is lush after all the rain.

These two little waterfalls (two or three feet high) are normally three tiny streams running over the rocks.  I love this spot.  When the water is normal, one can walk across the rocks to the far side (an island in Big Creek) and not get the feet wet.

Does anyone know what these are?   They are just a few inches tall.  They look good enough to eat, but I haven't tried them

Here is Site 12.  This is the group that has come to Big Creek every year (the week before Memorial Day) for over thirty years.  I love these guys!  We have three generations in two campsites.  You can tell they are experienced Big Creek campers by the size and number of tarps they hang over their campsite.  They know it rains here - a lot.

I realize now that I did not include the young boys in my photos. Two of the middle generation are chefs.  We should have accepted their offers to eat dinner with them.

The man with two little girls in Site 11 wanted to cancel his campsite reservation in Cataloochee since he got a prime site here.  He did not have a phone signal so we let him use our phone to call the reservation office. He got put on hold for a long time and gave the phone to one of the girls to listen to the music while he put up the tent.  She was supposed to give him the phone when the reservation person came back on the line.  But, the girl got tired of listening to music and gave the phone back to Daddy with the music still playing. The tent was not fully set up either.

This bug was on the bridge railing. I thought he was a particularly handsome fellow.  The colors remind me of a race car or a fast motorcycle.  It probably is not very fast though.  Look at those tiny wings.

Since the water level in the creek was high, I walked to the far side of the creek to take a picture of the creek-wide waterfall below the bridge.  Normally, the drop is three or four feet.  Today it was closer to one foot. That's Andy on the bridge.

This cluster is near the group picnic table.  It looks like daylilies to me, but I've never seen any blooms here.

Take a closer look.  The Swallowtails were gathered under the bent leaves.

I saved the big news for last.  Hugo House sent me an electronic proof of Big Creek for me to approve.  I found two more errors in it!  I made note of them for George and approved the proof.  The next step is that they will print one copy for me to approve.  When I do, they will print however many I want to buy.  I should get books a week or so after that!!!  Is it really going to happen?  I think it might this time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Little Greenbriar Schoolhouse

Poor Ranger Heath could not make it to this end of the park on the 22nd for a piece of Andy's monthly birthday cake (chocolate pie in this instance).  We decided to deliver a piece to the Little River ranger station for him. He shared it with several other rangers who were also in the station.

It was raining hard when we left.

We continued on into the park and visited the Little Greenbriar Schoolhouse, built in 1882.  The community built the building and the county paid the teacher's salary. The building also served as the Baptist church.

The one-lane dirt road into the schoolhouse is very narrow and there are not many places to move over to pass an oncoming vehicle.  In that case, someone would have to back up a long way  We were lucky that we did not meet anyone coming out.

It was pouring rain as we walked from the parking lot to the schoolhouse.

The most striking thing to me was the size of the boards. Here is a picture I snatched from the web to show them.

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It was partly the dark, rainy day, but the school marm told us it is always dark in there.

Retired elementary school teacher,  Robin Goddard is a park volunteer who presents a program every Tuesday on the schoolhouse and what school was like for the students. The school year was short, I presume after the fall harvesting was done and before it was time to start the spring planting.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rainy Day

It started raining soon after Jim and Diane drove out last night and it was still raining late this morning when we walked around the campground.  I noted how the potholes really stand out when they are full of water.  I call this spot "unavoidable".  There is no way to miss them.  They are deep too.

This one in front of the dumpster is also unavoidable, but it is not as deep.

I liked the way the headlights of this car seemed so bright on the dark and rainy campground road.

After our campground tour (four sites occupied in the pouring rain) we heard whoops in the woods across Big Creek as we walked to the bridge.  Then a family appeared.  They had finished a three-day loop hike around Big Creek.  They were all soaking wet and happy at the prospect of drying out.

We were surprised to see a ranger truck come down the drive in the afternoon.  We don't see rangers around here that often.  This time, it was Jeff Duckett who is a new ranger to us.  He came in to say hello for a few minutes.  He told us he has worked in Yellowstone and Big Bend national parks.

This may not be the most flattering picture I took of him, but I love the expression on his face.

Later, we got some company I was expecting.  Shannon Woolfolk has appeared in the Big Creek Journal for several years now.  We first me her when she was a grad student at Maryville College and bringing busloads of college kids to big creek on weekend outings.  They would white-water raft on the Pigeon River and camp here in the group site.  Now she is a resource protection park ranger at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie near Charleston, South Carolina.  She likes her job but misses the mountains.  She had come here for the weekend for an organized mountain bike ride.

I offered her some coffee that had been in the pot too long. I hope that does not prevent her from coming to visit us in the future. I tried to make amends by giving her one of my Costco nut bars to eat on the road.

Spence and Linda arrived while Shannon was visiting so she got to hear some Spence stories.

We had a few more sites occupied in the afternoon despite the rain. Here is a comfy camper in Site 8.

I have been looking for these guys for several days. They have camped here in Big Creek every year, the week before Memorial Day, for thirty years now.  This is the advance contingent; several more we be here later. I don't remember their names.  I took several pictures of their ribs hanging over the campfire.  The guys wondered if they were in the picture at all. We'll enjoy the lively banter with them this week.

I checked to see if the spider was still on the tree.  That's OK as long as she stays on the other side of the horse trail.

It's been a quiet rainy day here in Big Creek.  Elsewhere in the park, vehicles were running off the roads. There were two incidents overlapping this afternoon.  The first vehicle was near the road and down a deep bank.  A tow truck was called to pull the car up the bank.  The second vehicle was on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and was farther off the road.  The driver had a cut on his hand.   The in-route ranger asked dispatch to find out which rental company owned it because those companies generally come tow the vehicles themselves. A few minutes later (after she called the reporting party) she responded with "Mountain Life Adventure".  I looked that up and found that they rent UTVs and Slingshots (these things). The tow truck company retrieved the vehicle from the trees and boulders.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Diane's Birthday is May 20

I was very excited to see the dump truck bring in two loads of gravel and dump them in the curve around the group site.  I thought maybe they were going to fill some of the potholes around here. Later, Spence told me they are for him to place around the edges of the picnic table and tent pads.

Spence brought me a large tub of sour cherries he picked from a tree in his yard. I began pitting them right away.  Spence went to great lengths to make me appreciate how he bravely fought off the birds in the rain to get those cherries for me.  I decided to make a cobbler. Even though they were sour cherries, Andy snatched a few every time he walked by the kitchen counter (for no apparent reason, I might add).

Friends Jim and Diane arrived from Asheville, where they are spending the weekend for Diane's birthday.  We were flattered that she chose to spend her birthday with us.  She arrived bearing gifts for us - North Carolina blueberries and strawberries.  Jim brought his musical instruments.

A ranger truck came down the drive just as I was pulling the cherry cobbler out of the oven. How did Heath know?  It turned out not to be Ranger Heath after all, but Steve Roper whom we had not met before. Steve is the head ranger for this quadrant of the park now. He said he was not familiar with this area of the park and asked us how to get to Mouse Creek Falls.  Then he went back up to the parking area to relay the information to some park visitors.  He returned after a while and we offered him some of Spence's cherry cobbler.  He said he has been in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since last fall.  He was in Yellowstone for eleven years before that.

I love this picture of Andy laughing.  He was chatting with Diane, but I don't know what she said to get this reaction.

I forgot to get this fellow's name.  He had just finished hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail, about three hundred miles.  I offered him some of Spence's cobbler too.

Jim had bought Diane some nice pottery for her birthday to replace a favorite piece the cat had knocked on a shelf.  He wanted to surprise her.  Jim had already sneaked it into the motorhome where I unwrapped it and set it on the table.  Diane did not go into the motorhome to discover it.  So, we filled it with water and brought it out to the picnic table with the mugs. Diane noticed it (she loves pottery) but didn't say anything about it.  Finally, Jim began telling the story of how his father replaced a glass vase his mother loved, by having it on the table with flowers in it when they dined at some friend's house.  Diane had heard the story before and then realized the pottery was for her. 

 Here they are clowning around with pottery.  Notice who's hand is holding the spoon in the cobbler dish.

A group of young women was walking down the horse trail when they stopped and all began to scream.  I ran for my camera to capture whatever they were screaming about.  We couldn't see anything. The girls walked on.  I didn't have any trouble finding the source of their consternation. This gal is huge! Jim and I took pictures until I got too close and the spider ducked back into the hole in the tree.

I took a measuring tape out to measure the hole so I could judge the size of the spider with my pictures.  That hole is two inches tall and that is a big spider.

I used Google Images to determine that it is a Dark Fishing Spider. Some of those images show people holding the spider.  Not me.  Have a closer look.

Here is Jim giving Andy a ukelele lesson, It is supposed to be very easy to learn

Andy wanted to take Diane to the Mellow Mushroom for her birthday.  After filling up on pizza we returned to Big Creek and had a nice campfire for the evening.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Season Has Begun

It was late when I went to bed last night so, rather than hang my clothes in the closet, I laid them over a basket in the bedroom.  This morning, after I was dressed and made the bed, I picked up my dress slacks to put back in the closet.  I found Andy's name badge from last night on the seat of my pants. He was waiting in the kitchen and burst into laughter when I yelled, "Hey!"  He knew what I had discovered. He assured me that I wasn't wearing his name on my butt at the event; he put it there after we got home.

We passed the car of young people from Texas as we were walking up to the campground in the morning.  We had insisted that they hike to the Midnight Hole, Mouse Creek Falls, and the upper bridge yesterday morning.  The did and were ecstatic.  It was the best ever! It warmed my cockles to get that feedback.  We made a difference.

That reminded me of Superintendent Cash's remarks last night.  Andy and I (and Spence) are the face of the Smokies here in Big Creek.  All the camp hosts here fill the role in turn. We play a part in park visitors having a great experience.  That gives them a life-long memory and an emotional connection to the park. That emotional connection is what makes them supporters of this park and the park system in general. They will love the park and respect the resources the park protects.

The tent campground was full in the morning. The slot was out of pay envelopes. I replenished it so the people who were staying another night could pay up.  Some people had already left for the day's hike without paying, but I knew I would catch up with them in the evening.  All had paid by the time we made our evening rounds. We sent anyone else asking for a site to Cosby.  Two backpackers who had gone out earlier in the week returned looking for a campsite and I put them in Site 6 in the horse camp.

The group site has been reserved several times since we've been here.  Today is the first day a group has shown up in two weeks.  The high school chemistry teacher arrived first he had a car loaded to the top with camping gear.  The rest of the group, high-school kids and a few smaller ones (children of the adults) showed up several hours later.  The rain came down in buckets while they set up their tents.

We got our bundle of mail from the Marathon UPS store yesterday but did not look at it before we went out for the evening.  The bundle included our house plans from Arlington Ridge.  Then, late last night I saw an email.  They were wondering why we had not signed and returned the plans.  Because we don't get our mail regularly when we are on the road. I replied that we would review them this morning and get them in the mail today. It was not hard since we had not made many structural changes to the standard house plan.  Our only change was to add some windows. We did notice that we needed another hose bib near the back of the house.  I called Jose, the Director of Home Design, he FAX'd me a change order to print and sign, and we were ready to go to the post office.

We passed the maintenance crew from Cosby going down Big Creek Road.  Juan, Robert, and Linda came over.  Juan told us the visibility on the interstate was terrible because of the heavy rain.  I was sorry not to be there to visit with Linda, but we had to get to the post office before it closed.

There was a woman at the counter talking non-stop as the postal clerk weighed, stamped and charged her postage.  By the time she was done, a good line had formed behind us. The woman turned around and announced to everyone in line, "Don't buy those bamboo bras!  It cost $17 postage to get them and then $17 postage to send them back!  ........I mean the women."

I turned around to see several befuddled men in the line behind us.  Andy asked with puzzlement in his voice, "Bamboo bras?" I reminded him of the bamboo baby booties we bought for one of the grandsons.  They were sooooo soft.  A woman near the back of the line announced, "I love my bamboo sheets".

When Andy decided it made sense, he said to the crowd, "I guess she was bamboozled!  The post office was filled with groans and laughter as we walked out the door.