Monday, August 11, 2014

Ijams Nature Center

To celebrate our seven years of wedded bliss (it's usually bliss at least), Noelle and I, along with Sierra headed over to Knoxville to do a little exploring. Our first stop was the very interesting Ijams Nature Center. We got our bearings and bought a trail map, then ate a snack in the car before hitting the trails. Our hike was a short one, but we packed a lot of interesting sights into the short walk.

We began with a walk through the woods on the North Cove Trail.
on the trail
We then made a right turn onto the River Trail. The most interesting part of the hike was the section of boardwalk on the River Trail that led us above the Tennessee River.
Noelle on boardswalk
Besides the river itself, the boardwalk was interesting in that it passed by a cave
Noelle at cave
and along a limestone outcrop with lots of cracks for skinks to hide in.
skink

From the River Trail we hiked back to the nature center on the Tower Trail. We saw the beautiful bloom of a Passionflower along the way.
passionflower
Once back at the center we checked out the animals and exhibits,
girls in tree
along with the grounds surrounding it.
Sierra and turtle
butterfly
Then it was on to downtown Knoxville where we finally ate at the Tupelo Honey Cafe. I think the food lived up to its billing, and the $2 pints made things even better. After a late lunch we walked around town a bit and let Sierra play in the fountain at Market Square.
wet hand
touching water
love water
It was a wonderful day to spend an anniversary!             

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Low Gap, Camel Gap, AT Lollipop Hike

As I drove through Cosby in a real gully-washer downpour, I really started to reconsider my intentions of going for a hike today. Still, because I was so close to the Cosby Campground and the starting point of my hike, I decided to just keep driving and see what happens. It turns out that I made the right decision as the rain had ended by the time I reached the trailhead parking lot.
trailhead
Despite cloudy skies, I would not get rained on during the entirety of my 16 mile hike until the last 20 minutes of my return to the car.

The hike started out on the Low Gap Trail as it meandered around the Cosby Campground. Even though the first section of trail was so close to civilization, it was an interesting walk. The trail closely paralleled Cosby Creek
Cosby Creek
and meandered through some huge old growth trees.
Low Gap Trail
After leaving the campground area the trail started to climb in earnest. The tread was well graded and not too rocky, which made for good hiking conditions (especially on the descent later in the day). There were lots of late summer wildflowers in bloom to admire,
yellow flower
white snakeroot
flower
including the first blooming goldenrods of the year. After about an hour and a half of climbing I found myself at Low Gap for a descent down to Walnut Bottoms.

The second half of the Low Gap Trail was not as smooth as the first, but I was still able to make pretty good time on my descent down to Big Creek. Along the way I stopped briefly to check out some weird fungi,
fungus
but otherwise I kept a quick pace down to the aptly named creek.
Big Creek 1
I then followed a short portion of the Big Creek Trail to its junction with the Swallow Fork to complete that section of trail should I ever find myself approaching eligibility for the 900 Miler Club.
trail junction
Then I retraced my steps back across Big Creek and continued upstream.
warning sign
The views of the creek were impressive and I found myself frequently stopping to photograph it.
Big Creek 2
Big Creek 4


At a seemingly arbitrary point the Big Creek Trail became the Camel Gap Trail, which I would follow about 4.1 miles to the Appalachian Trail. The lower sections of trail bed were obviously an old railroad as evidenced by the railroad spike
railroad spike
I found right on the trail and another chunk of old industrial detritus.
metal piece
Because of the trail's former use the grade was gentle and I found it easy to make the ascent. I considered stopping for a swim in a nice deep pool at the bottom of a small waterfall,
deep hole
but because of time constraints I opted against it. The trail eventually left Big Creek and started to climb a little bit more steeply with an occasional view through the trees to the surrounding mountains.
view
Soon I was on the famed AT.

The Appalachian Trail was high enough in elevation at this point that it afforded me the opportunity to hike in the clouds.
foggy AT
The mist coated everything including the numerous spiderwebs that decorated the trail-sides.
wet spiderweb
There was also lots of trillium lining the trail, and although it is no longer in bloom the leaves and fruit are still present and quite photogenic.
trillium fruit
I also found quite a few lillies growing at that high elevation.
lilly
I believe that they are Turk's Cap. The trail made a short climb up to the flank Cosby Knob and I headed down to the Cosby Knob Shelter to use the privy.
Cosby Knob Shelter
I had spent the night in this shelter during my thru-hike in 2000, but it did not seem at all familiar to me 14 plus years later. My stop turned out to be good timing as it started raining while I was using the outhouse. I waited out the remainder of the storm inside the shelter.

From Cosby Knob it was literally all downhill. I made it back to my car in less than an hour and half after leaving the shelter. I did get rained on a bit on the descent, but still I did not get soaked like I had expected. Once back to the car it was about an hour drive back to Greeneville.                          

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cherokee National Forest: Hell Hollow Trail

Rain was in the forecast today. However, with it being a special Daddy/Daughter Adventure Day, I asked Sierra what she wanted to do and she said hiking. (I really do love that little girl!) And so, after a trip to the farmer's market, we set out to do some hiking. I found a short trail marked Hell Hollow on the map and decided that we would go to hell and back today.

We drove Clark's Creek Road to the trailhead.
Hell Hollow TH
I got Sierra into the backpack
Sierra and Daddy
and we hit the trail.
path
In the course of researching the trail I could not find much information about it. I now know why: it's not that spectacular. Still, any day out in the woods is a good day. The trail climbed up to a ridge with limited views off to the hazy mountains.
view
Then the trail descended a bit until it came to an overgrown section of old road bed. The trail is only .8 mile long and so I figured this was the official end of the trail. More adventurous hikers could scramble amongst the rhododendron to explore further, but with Sierra this would be our turnaround point.

The hike back to the car was mostly downhill. We saw a few mushrooms
mushroom
and a pile of bear scat, but not much else that seemed particularly interesting. After getting back to the car and eating a quick snack,
snack at car
I decided an appropriate end to our adventure would be lunch at the Old Town Dairy Bar in Jonesborough. We had lunch and the "special treat" of a strawberry sundae before heading home. Another successful Daddy/Daughter Adventure!       

Friday, August 8, 2014

It IS About the Bike

My ride 2 weeks ago on the Virginia Creeper Trail was a good for me in more ways than one. First of all it allowed me the opportunity to ride one of America's best rail/trails with great company. It also forced me to get the bike out of the shed, put air in the tires and get it ready to ride on. Since I've gotten it rideable again (though I need to get a new saddle) I've been riding to work. Yes, today was the first day since the end of my furlough that I did not ride to work. It was pouring rain at departure time and so I opted to drive. (I know I am a fair weather bicycle commuter!) I also got motivated to put in my application for the federal bicycle transportation subsidy.

Now I know the ride is short at about 1.4 miles. However the route is on some narrow road with blind curves and features 2 pretty good climbs. Since I used to walk to work but was told "people around here don't walk", I wonder what drivers think of my cycling? 
Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRide

Sunday, August 3, 2014

North Carolina Arboretum

Today Noelle, Sierra and I headed down to Asheville to check out the North Carolina Arboretum. The arboretum had originally been the focus of our trip down there, but after a delicious lunch at Mellow Mushroom we strolled around downtown a bit and ended up at Splashville an area of fountains for kids (and adults) to play in.
Splashville

After Sierra spend about a half hour getting somewhat wet, we headed for the arboretum. While the parking fee is a bit expensive at $12, the arboretum is a very pleasant place for a stroll. We were all impressed by the Quilt Garden,
Quilt garden
Noelle and Sierra at garden
and the art work throughout the arboretum.
A hedge against
Oh Great Spirit
However, my favorite part was the bonsai garden.
2 bonsai
another bonsai
bonsai forest
We walked from the main parking area to an education center and then took a short hike back on the Natural Garden Trail.
on the trail
Sierra was happy to go hiking. She walked a good bit of the way on her own, although Noelle and I did have to carry her a little bit.         

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cherokee National Forest: Wolf Creek Falls

Today is the last day of my furlough and my first time out for a solo adventure in a while. I took inspiration from our family outing on Saturday to head into a part of the woods I've never been in before. I headed to Wolf Creek. On Saturday, while driving to the Betty Place Trailhead, we passed a sign for the Wolf Creek Trailhead. This trailhead was not marked on my map and so I did a little bit of research on it when I got home. It turns out that it is the starting point for a horse/ATV trail up an old carriage road to Wolf Creek Falls. I was intrigued and today had the opportunity to explore the area a little.

The drive tot eh trailhead seemed long, but the air was cool enough this morning to drive with the windows down. I turned off of US 25/70 and onto the marked road. It was paved for a short distance but turned to gravel near a church.
trailhead sign
The road was also quite rutted and muddy. Still, it was not too rough for my Honda Civic. I parked at the end of the road in a big gravel lot and then hit the trail. Almost immediately the trail forded Wolf Creek. I headed back to the car for my sandals, put them on my feet and tied my boots together to hang around my neck.
selfie with boots

I forded the creek for the first time. The water felt good and cool, but the stream was moving pretty swiftly due to last night's rain. Once across I decided to leave my sandals on, as I figured there would probably be another ford of the creek. This turned out to be a good decision, as shortly after crossing the creek for the first time, I re-crossed it again. After the second crossing I decided to stick with sandals. I would have two more crossings, but both of them would come much later in the hike. The sandals were handy though for slogging through the muddy trail.
trail
mud

The trail closely followed Wolf Creek for much of its length,
wolf creek (2)
although the trail left the creek for a steep climb towards the waterfall. Along the way I was treated to views of a few species of wildflowers
pink flowers
including Indian pipe.
indian pipe
There were also lots of mushrooms out.
white mushroom
Soon after the steep climb, the trail met a more muddy road. I turned right at this junction because the road led downhill. This turned out to be the correct decision as the road soon ended at a campsite from which raging water could be heard.

I took a faint path from the campsite to the top of the falls. There was not much of a view from there and so I looked around and found another trail that led down to the base of the falls. With last night's rain there was a good flow of water falling over the ledge and the view was impressive. The spray from the falls was refreshing. I spent a few minutes eating a snack and enjoying the quiet, secluded spot.
wolf creek falls
I took some photos and then started to head back to the car. On the return trip I decided to wear my boots as I knew when to expect creek crossings and the little grains of rock that got caught in my sandals were rubbing my feet raw. I made good time on the return hike and was back to the car in no time at all.