Saturday, April 18, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Sugarlands Rock House and Old Sugarlands Cemetery

After my hike of Porters Creek, I braved the horrible Gatlinburg traffic and drove over to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to use the restroom. This also provided me an opportunity to finally purchase myself a copy of the definitive hiking trail guide to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hiking Trails of the Smokies, also know as the "Little Brown Book". From the visitor center I made the short drive over to the Old Sugarlands Trail parking area. The parking area is small and was full when I arrived and so I continued on a short distance to a pull off on the other side of the road.

I walked the road for a short distance and then hit the trail after playing Human Frogger in the thick traffic. My destination for this second hike of the day wold be the infamous Sugarlands Rock House. There's a lot of speculation about the structure, but many seem to think it was secretly built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a place for bigwigs to stay when visiting. I'm skeptical about those claims, but I can offer no better explanation. I printed directions to the rock house off the internet at the Wildlife South website.
map
They were very accurate and got me to my destination without any problems.

There were some wildflowers in bloom along this hike, but not as many as I had seen earlier in the day during my hike of Porters Creek Trail. I saw some yellow trillium,
yellow trillium
and some dogwood
dogwood
amongst other specimen.  I followed the Old Sugarlands Trail over the old highway bridge and over to what is supposedly the old CCC camp incinerator.
incinerator
At this point, rather than follow the Old Sugarlands Trail, I took the grassy road to the right.
grassy road
This road provides access to the Old Sugarlands Cemetery. Of course, I had to stop at the cemetery and have a look around.
sugarlands cemetery
There were some interesting headstones to read, as usual.
cole grave
A lot of the names were familiar to those who spend time exploring cemeteries in the Great Smoky Mountains. There were Ogles,
Ogle grave
Partons, Huskeys,
Huskey grave
and Ownbys.
Ownby grave
McCarter grave
After a short visit of the cemetery I moved on back to the road.

I followed the road to a point where a bunch of small tree branches had been placed across it. There was an obvious trail here leading to the left. I figured this must be the trail to the rock house, and it turns out I was correct. The trail was pretty well worn and weaved through evidence of former habitation in the area. I approached and crossed a small stream and then steeply climbed the bank on the other side. Then I laid eyes on the rock house.
rock house
I spent about 20 minutes exploring the crumbling ruins.
in doorway
inside
tree growing inside
window bars
There is no roof remaining, but the walls are mostly intact.
wall
There is some debris inside including: bed frames, a shovel head,
debris
and an old cook stove.
stove
I sat and rested for a bit
sitting in rock house
and was visited by an insect friend.
insect
Then I bid farewell to the rock house and retraced my steps back to my car. Along the way I saw a bear! Of course it ran away before I was able to photograph it. Still, I was glad to have seen it.                      

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Porters Creek Trail

After a stressful week at work, I was given permission to head out on my own to do some hiking and it was much appreciated. I decided to head over to the Smokies to do two hikes I've been considering for quite some time now. The first hike was a return to Porters Creek. Noelle, Sierra, and I had hiked Porters Creek just over a year ago. However, on that hike we only made it as far as Fern Branch Falls. This time I intended to go all the way to the end of the trail at campsite #31.

It was a beautiful morning and I had made it to the trailhead early enough that there were just a few cars in the parking lot. I immediately hit the trail at just after 8:30.
Porters Creek Trail
straight path
The theme for the hike was definitely wildflowers. They were in bloom all over the place.
flowers and trail
Last year when we had hiked this trail we were just a little bit early for the main display of flowers, though the phacelia was in bloom then, which it wasn't on this hike. There was lots of trillium: yellow, painted
painted trillium
and other varieties that I am not able to positively identify.
trillium
There were also showy orchis,
showy orchis
showy orchis 2
wild ginger,
wild ginger
star chickweed,
small white flowers
wild geranium,
geranium
more geranium
dwarf crested iris,
dwarf crested iris
iris 2
bluets,
bluets
mayapple,
mayapple
and lots of other species. Other than stopping to photograph the wildflowers, the hike went pretty quickly. I stopped to explore Fern Branch Falls
Fern Branch falls
and this time scrambled up to the base of the falls.
Fern Branch closeup
Beyond the falls, the trillium was the thickest I think I've ever seen.
trillium lined path
lots of trillium

Besides trillium, the upper reaches of the trail passed by some big trees.
big tree
There were also some ferns whose fronds were not fully expanded. These are what are known as fiddleheads.
fiddleheads
The trail never veered far from its namesake Porters Creek.
Porters Creek
At campsite #31
campsite 31
I turned around and started to make my way back to the trailhead, the hiking on the return went particularly fast since it was all downhill. I did stop to photograph some wildlife: a snail,
snail
some butterflies,
tiger swallowtail
and this interesting warbler
warbler
who allowed me to approach fairly closely as it collected nesting material off the trail.
warbler 2

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Wonderland Section of Elkmont

With Mom and Dad T out to visit, this would be our day out. We originally had thought a trip to Asheville would be our ticket out of town, but decided to head over to the Smokies because Mom wanted to see some abandoned buildings. We decided on touring the Wonderland section of Elkmont because non of us had ever been there before.

We parked the car near the set of stairs that leads into the unknown
Wonderland stairs
before you reach the Elkmont Campground. We headed up
walking up stairs
and immediately found signs of former habitation: an ring of stone, perhaps a flower planter.
stone circle
Nearby was a rotting hotel building
ruins
and next to the hotel was a flagstone path and set of stairs that now leads to nowhere.
stairway to nowhere
We decided to explore on further
walking thru Wonderland
and soon passed a variety of old vacation homes in various states of decay.
red cabin
peeking in
green cabin
Noelle heads up stairs
Besides interesting decay, we were treated to a nice display of spring wildflowers
pollinator
more wildflowers
and some butterflies.
butterflies
Eventually the old road we were following led to an active gravel road. I figured it must lead to a cemetery and after a short walk we discovered that I was right, the road led right to the Old Elkmont Cemetery.
old Elkmont Cemetery
We toured the graves for a bit
Ogle graveDad exploring cemetery
Brackin grave
and then decided to walk the gravel road back to the car.
family walking road

Along the way we found one more abandoned resort home. This one was covered in graffiti and appeared to be lived in more recently than the others.
graffiti cabin
From the last home it was a short walk back to the paved Elkmont Road and our car.