Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Circumnavigating The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Boy, am I mad!!!!  Someone has carved initials in a tree in Campsite 9.  I don't know if it has been there for a while and I didn't notice it or it is new.  The letters are huge and deep.  It looks as though they burned them in. I'm going to look into the best way to obscure the letters without doing too much harm to the tree.

We needed to take a day off for exploration and adventure.  (Seniors adventures, of course)  When we stopped in for coffee after weed whacking, Spence suggested that it would be a perfect day to ride the Tail of the Dragon.  The weather was gorgeous, but the traffic would be less on a weekday.  I've been wanting to go there since our first year, but Andy has been reluctant.  We hear of too many motorcycle accidents on the park radio and the Tail of the Dragon is a famous ride for motorcycles.

Spence also suggested that we go into the park at Gatlinburg so I could take some pictures of the spot where thirty-to-forty trees fell over and blocked Little River Road for several days. Fortunately, there was a pull-over spot just past the tree incident site.

It has been all cleaned up now and was hard to capture on camera.  In real life, it was very impressive.  When we heard a park employee reporting it on the radio, he said it must have been a microburst. There were some trees and branches in Little River, across the road.

We continued on and took the Townsend exit from the park and then got on the Foothills Parkway.  We hear of it on the park radio so I wanted to see it.  There was very little traffic.  I stopped a few times for pictures.  This one is looking north/west.

This overlook is looking south/east

The spot and the view were lovely, but there was a lot of graffiti on the steps and viewing platform. I reported it to dispatch.

The Tail of the Dragon is an eleven-mile stretch of curvy mountain road on US29.  It is very popular with motorcyclists and sports cars as there are 318 curves.  Andy was very relieved that there was not much traffic.  Only two vehicles came up behind me and I pulled over to let them pass.  All the motorcycles were traveling in the opposite direction. I believe we were at the Tail of the Dragon Overlook when I took this picture. If so, that is Calderwood Dam and Lake. 

I also wanted to see Fontana Dam and Lake on the Little Tennessee River.  I was not prepared for it. Holy Moly!!  That thing is huge!  At 480 feet, it is the biggest dam in the Tennessee Valley power system and the highest dam east of the Rockies. Built to produce power for the WWII effort, it was started in 1942 and completed 36 months later. 

Our next stop was at the top. This is a view of Fontana Lake from an overlook.

The roadway on top of the dam is the Appalachian Trail.

We turned into the visitor center and looked into this giant hole.  It is a spillway to dump water from the lake and there are two of them.  They are so large and deep that I thought they might be the gates of hell.  I didn't get a picture looking down.

The visitor center has some exhibits and an observation deck on the roof.

From there, I took this shot of the spillway with the bridge.

We walked onto the bridge and I took this picture of Fontana Lake.

I had planned to stop in the Deep Creek campground near Bryson City to say hello to fellow campground hosts, Henry and Bonnie, but we realized it was getting late.  We opted to pass it by and that was a good decision.  It was after ten o'clock when we got back to Big Creek.

Here is our trip today. Counterclockwise from the red "X", Big Creek.  I circled the main points of interest in red too.

We picked up this brochure at the dam visitor center.  We did not stop at the Tail of the Dragon store for stickers or t-shirts. I'm not sporty enough.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

String Trimming and Mowing

I don't know what they are, but the rules for using power tools in the park are limiting.  Definitely not on weekends when there are more visitors.  Of course, he can't mow the grass when it is raining.  He needs to weed-whack when there are not too many cars in the parking lot.  Many cars are parked there for days while their owners are hiking in the back country. Slinging gravel on them is a no no.

Often, the stars do not align properly for days on end. Weekday, few cars, no rain.  It doesn't happen very often in Big Creek. We've had two days with no rain.  Spence was week whacking (actually, the park calls it string trimming) around the parking lot in the mornings and mowing in the afternoons.

The men in Site 6 had some very attractive firewood.  It was scraps from his wood-working shop.

The folks in Site 12 had collected some wet wood from the forest and it was just about smoking them out.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

Big Creek - It's a Book!!!!!

I checked Amazon late last night and found Big Creek!.  It's a book!!!!

Even if you are not remotely interested in buying a copy, check it out.  Somehow, the more people that look it up, the higher it gets in the algorithm and will show up higher in the list of searches. Or, so I've read.  I probably don't know enough people to make a difference, but it's worth a try.

I don't have my paper copies yet.

Now you won't have to read my whining about the book not getting done any longer!

The Recovery

The tent campground was cleared out when we made our morning walkabout.  Only the parties in Sites 2 and 3.  We saw Spence a bit later and he reported that only Site 3 was occupied.  There were plenty of day visitors though, even with imminent rain.

The section of Little River Road, where all the trees blew down yesterday, was still closed.

On the radio:

A fisheman (angler, if politically correct) fell and fractured his leg in the Little River. He must have used his cell phone to call 911 and they forwarded it to the park dispatch office.

It was noon before the litter team reached the Ramsey Cascade.  Ranger Jeff was ahead of them. At 1:35 the team announced that the they were heading back down the trail. We did not hear them talking to much about the recovery, except for people checking in to help or verifying that people were carrying the necessary "technical recovery" equipment up the trail. It is a big job, requiring a lot of people to carry equipment in and more to carry the patient out. It saddented me each time I heard them on the radio.  The crew got rained on as they were carrying the patient back down the trail. I think is was about 7:30 in the evening when we heard Ranger Jeff report that all participants were "clear" of Greenbrier.  It must have been a long, hard day for them all.

Spence at Work in Big Creek

Spence has been working hard this week.  We passed his Gator parked near the picnic area toilet building.  I got a kick of how his brush from knocking down cobwebs is strapped to the Gator.  It is even funnier to see him carrying a ladder.

We were heading back down the campground road from our morning walkaround when Spence came driving up to clean the tent campground toilet building.  Andy pointed out that his Gator only has one headlight.  Spence doesn't know when he'll get a new bulb.

This cluster of leaves along the campground road stood out against the green forest behind it.

Leaf Burst

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ramsey Cascades Tragedy

We had one clap of thunder and then some rain last night about eleven.  I didn't notice any wind. Apparently, they got a much bigger storm on the Tennessee side of the park.  The radio was abuzz this morning about trees fallen across the roads.  It seemed that most of the park roads were closed. We heard several people discussing downed trees on Little River Road. At one point, a park worker said there must have been a micro-burst as there were thirty to forty trees down in one area.  They had the road blocked.  There were discussing through the day on what to do about it and they eventually decided that it would be too dangerous for men to cut them up with chainsaws.  They decided to close the road and wait for heavy equipment to come in some time this week.

There is a gate at the entrance to the group and host campsites.  We try to keep it closed on weekends and, especially, holiday weekends.  Otherwise, as soon as the small parking lot is filled, people will be parking in the group site. I'm sure the folks who paid for that site would not be too happy about it. The parking lot was already full when we walked around the campground in the morning.  Andy closed the gate on our way up there.

Since we were already up to the road, we continued on it rather than our normal route through the parking lot.  I love the little (short) split-rail fence along this section of road.  Most of the rails are covered with moss.  I think the moss poachers Spence told us about got a lot of their moss from this fence.  Many of the rails are missing their mossy blanket.

At this point, the road loops around into the parking lot.  The campground road is just around the bend.

I noticed this tiny forest of slender plants.  I thought they might be ferns, but they have not opened enough for me to be sure.

Boss Larry, fresh from his vacation, arrived while we were eating. Ranger Jeff arrived shortly thereafter and they went to the campground to empty the iron ranger. They brought all the payment envelopes back and counted them on our picnic table.  We chatted for a bit and then, they were on their way.

Here is another first.  These mushrooms are growing in the gravel walkway in the campground.

I post photos of these boulders in the woods next to the campground road every year.  They are brilliant when the sun hits them just right.

We stood on the bridge and watched these two children in the creek.  They did not get in that frigid water any more than necessary to get from rock to rock.

Another crop of mushrooms has popped up in the moss near the toilet building. They are about as big as a pencil eraser.

I don't remember the time, early to mid-afternoon most likely, when we heard a report of a man who fell forty feet onto rocks at the Ramsey Cascades and they could not see him. Rangers were immediately chiming in.  Ranger Jeff was apparently the first one to the Greenbrier area.  Ranger Heath was not far behind him. It is a long way to get to the waterfall with a five-mile dirt-and-gravel drive into the Greenbrier area from the entrance.  Then it is a four-mile strenuous hike to the falls.

Someone reported a tree down across the road in the park.  I think Ranger Jeff reported it and went on.  Ranger Heath was going to clear the tree from the road so the rescue vehicle could get through. More park personnel were joinging the rescue.  About eighteen were on the way to carry the patient out, clear other park visitors out of the way, interview hikers coming down the trail, etc.  They were having radio trouble and kept having to repeat for dispatch or each other.  Sometimes we could only hear half of a converstation.

It was about seven to seven-thirty when we began to hear them discussing continuing in the morning. The In-Charge ranger said he wanted a report first-hand before making a decision.  Later, he announced that Ranger Jeff had reached the patient.  They would make a recovery in the morning.  All the rescue team on the trail was to drop all their rescue gear where they were.  The trail will be closed until they complete the recovery tomorrow.

It is always distressing when we hear of a death in the park.  It happens way too often for various reasons. I am sure it is hard on the rangers and other park personnel who attempt to rescue park visitors. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Another Dog Day

A family from Greensboro, NC came up the trail with their dog and I offered to dogsit.  His name is Rugby, a mix of lab and heeler. He was a bit anxious when his family left and watched them until they were out of sight. He calmed down after I fed him a Pup-Peroni.

He has some great markings, brindle all over with one eye and ear dark brown. I was surprised how soft he was.

 He was also extremely affectionate.  When I was sitting in my chair, he put his front legs over my shoulders and licked my arms, face, and neck.  That was all the exposed skin I had.  I won't need a shower tonight.  He was also a singer.  He would throw his head back and howl like a wolf, just not as loud.  Here, though, I think he was sniffing something in the air.

A butterfly kept landing on my camera on the table.  I pushed the button several times, but this was the best picture I got.

This was an unusual sight in Big Creek on a holiday weekend.  Someone had just left.  Someone else pulled into the space just after I snapped the picture.

The campground was full again early in the day.

The campers in Sites 2 and 3 are not roughing it.  They each have a toilet/shower tent.

They even have HOT showers!  This is new to me.  It is a propane water heater.  The small black box in front of the heater is a battery to run the water pump.

This adorable little camper in Site 10 was worn out and sleeping on Daddy's lap.

They also had a smaller boy in a portable crib.  I don't know how much hiking he did, but he was conked out.

This couple was the highlight of the day.  They are from Sebastian, Florida. (She is from Minnesota originally).  He had never seen mountains and was beside himself with excitement, enthusiasm, and awe.  They came in from the interstate in the morning on a whim.  As they were driving up Big Creek Road and rounded a curve, a  mama bear with three cubs was standing in the middle of the road.  He showed me his pictures on his cell phone.

They were still joyous in the evening when they posed for a picture for me.  It was so satisfying for me to see them enjoying their adventure. They plan to continue exploring all the way to Washington (state).

On the radio:  

An unattended parked car rolled off the road.  I couldn't determine how far off or down, but they did call for a tow truck.

Someone announced that he was out with an owl jam.

There was a rescue being performed on the Crooked Arm Ridge Trail, but we did not hear the beginning and, hence, did not know what happened.  It took several hours for a little team to be formed, reach the person, and carry them out.

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.