Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ijams Nature Center: Mead's Quarry Natural Area

Today was a family adventure day. We loaded up the family truckster and headed down to Knoxville. We were even able to make the drive with out Sierra getting carsick! We drove to downtown where there was some sort of ethnic food festival going on. The crowds were thick and the lines long though, so we headed over to the Downtown Brewery for lunch. After filling our bellies (and letting Sierra play in the fountains) we made the drive over to Ijams Nature Center for a hike around Mead's Quarry.

We parked at the visitor center and walked a short distance on the Skelton Greenway to Mead's Quarry and Mead's Quarry Lake. We immediately got a really nice view of the interesting body of water
and then set off on our hike on the Tharp Trace. The first stop was a small, but interesting cemetery called the Stanton Cemetery which was apparently used to bury some of the quarry workers.
After a short break we were back on the trail for the climb up to the Mount LeConte Overlook. The overlook is so named because on a clear day Mount LeConte is visible, not so today with clouds and rain threatening for this evening. Still, there was a nice view high out over the lake.

The trail continued to climb a short distance after the LeConte Overlook and then started a really steep descent.
The descent was not as steep as on the Woody Ridge Trail yesterday, but with Sierra in the backpack it was tough. Luckily, it was over pretty quickly. We stopped at another, unnamed overlook for a bit and then continued on.
As the trail leveled off we found a water tower disguised as an owl.
Sierra liked the tower a lot. She kept talking about the "owl tower" for the rest of the hike. Just past the owl tower was a side trail that led down to the lake and a nice overlook of not only the lake but two cave entrances.
One entrance had a gate visible just inside the entrance, while the other had quite a bit of water flowing out of it. We admired the view for a bit and then retraced our steps.

Soon we found a small mural painted by a nearby school.
We then walked the short Pink Marble Trail,
with a few more nice views of the lake (and the people out paddling on it)
back to the start of our loop around the lake. From there we walked the greenway back to the nature center.
We looked at the animals inside, and also checked out the tadpoles and salamanders in the small pond outside, along with some wildflowers.
We headed back to the car for a snack before hitting the road for the drive back to Greeneville.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pisgah National Forest: Woody Ridge Trail to Celo Knob and Gibbs Mountains

With a day to myself, I decided to head into the Black Mountains of North Carolina to finish off the Black Mountain portion of my South Beyond 6,000 project. I had hiked the Black Mountain Crest Trail from Mount Mitchell to Celo Knob back in May. I was really tired by the time I reached Celo Knob though, and so I decided to save Gibbs Mountain for another day. That day was today.

I made the long drive from Greeneville through Mars Hill for the first time (looks like an interesting little town) and then along US-19 and  US-19E through Burnsville and over to the well-named Micaville.
I turned south onto NC-80, and then turned onto Whiteoak Road for the short drive to the trailhead for the Woody Ridge Trail. The area at the trailhead seems to be a popular area for free camping, as there were several tents visible in the woods just off the road. I packed my gear, put on my boots, and hit the trail. The trail started off following an old road through the first colors of the fall.
Despite the fact that it was a road, the climb was pretty steep. Eventually I reached an area of rock outcropping
and from here on, the trail left the road bed and climbed very steeply.

I had read about the steepness of the trail, and so I was prepared for the worst. The ascent turned out to not be as bad as I had envisioned though. Still it was a strenuous climb. I slowly made my way up from the deciduous forest up through tunnels of rhododendron
and into the mixed forest with lots of spruce and fir. As I climbed I made my way up into the clouds and the water that had condensed on the trees rained down on me as the breeze picked up. As I made my way higher up the trail leveled off a bit and soon I was in the high meadow near the junction with the Black Mountain Crest Trail.

I pulled the old GPS unit out of my pack at this point. I wanted to make sure I stood on the top of my intended peaks today. I fired up the GPS,
and then headed left onto the foggy BMCT.
I followed the BMCT until my GPS unit told me it did not make any sense to follow it any further. I found a faint path into the woods and started my short, but rough bushwhack to the summit of Gibbs Mountain. I stood on the summit for a bit and then bashed through more vegetation to make sure my high point was the actual summit. When I was convinced that it was, I headed back to it and took a "selfie" summit photo.

After my summit photo, I bashed back down through vegetation to the Black Mountain Crest Trail which in clearing skies offered great views to the west.
I made a right onto the trail
and followed it over to Horse Rock which is also known as Percy's Peak. From the official trail it was a short bushwhack up to the summit. There was even a really nice view of Celo Knob,
my next objective, from near the apex. After a short break there, I bushwhacked back to the BMCT
and turned right again for the last part of the day's peakbagging.

I had been up Celo Knob in May, but found information that there is a benchmark on the summit. Since I found no benchmark last time, I figured I would look again today. While I am sure I stood on the summit, I again found no benchmark. I took a photo there nonetheless
and then ate a snack before heading down to the Black Mountain Crest Trail
and over to the Woody Ridge Trail
for the steep decent back to the car. I actually feel that the decent was more difficult than the ascent on this steep and slippery trail. Anyway, after about an hour and a half of carefully making my way downhill I arrived back at the car ready for the drive home.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Appalachian Trail: Camp Creek Bald Loop

Today I took a short day at work and Mom T and I took advantage of it by going for a short hike along a portion of the Appalachian Trail near Camp Creek Bald (aka Viking Mountain). We made the long drive up to Jones Meadow, parked the car and started hiking up the rough jeep road that leads to the summit of Camp Creek Bald. Almost immediately we found a blue-blazed trail that led to the AT.
Once on the Appalachian Trail we circled around the summit of Camp Creek Bald.
Eventually we came to another blue-blazed trail. We turned onto this trail and followed it around some fenced off towers and buildings
to the summit of the mountain.

From the summit we followed the rough jeep road downhill back to the car. Along the way we passed lots of fall wildflowers in bloom including goldenrod
and aster.
The flowers were loaded with insects gathering pollen, presumably preparing for the winter. We also saw a snake, a small ringnecked one,
and a pack of three hunting dogs.
After arriving back at the car, we made the short drive up to the end of the road where there is the foundation of one of the old Viking Mountain Resort cabins. There we saw a wonderful view of the Blackstack Cliffs
and down into the lowlands around Greeneville.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cataract Falls

I don't know what I was thinking. For some reason I decided that when the grandparents came out to Tennessee for Sierra's birthday, it would be a good idea to go to Gatlinburg. I've learned that it's never a good time to go to Gatlinburg. It was crowded with hoards of people, a good number of whom were of the redneck persuasion. We ate lunch at the brewery and walked around town for a bit where the grandparents even sampled some moonshine while listening to some bluegrass music.
Then we finally headed out of town and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Apparently, traffic headed  up to Newfound Gap was really bad. We scrapped our original plan and decided instead to make the short hike to Cataract Falls.
Dad G had to turn around pretty quickly due to knee issues, but the rest of us kept on the trail passing an interesting tree that I had photographed Noelle at about 8 years ago.
Eventually we made our way over to the cascading waterfall
where Sierra got to dip her piggies in the water.
After about 30 minutes of playing in the water we turned around and headed back to the car for the drive back to Greeneville.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cherokee National Forest: Lower Higgins Creek Falls

Noelle is nearing completion of her Master's thesis. Sierra and I decided to give her a day alone to work out some of the last details of her enormous undertaking. We headed over to Erwin to do a little hiking in a recently acquired section of the Cherokee National Forest along Lower Higgins Creek. The hike was mainly along an old road that appears to get some use from ATVs. We started the hike at the end of the official Lower Higgins Creek Road
where we elected not to cross Higgins Creek on a dilapidated looking bridge
and then climbed steadily uphill along the creek.

Along the way we saw some fall wildflowers in bloom including jewelweed and goldenrod. We also saw lots of these yellow flowers which I am unable to identify.
Soon we found an old number 5 painted in white in a blue rectangle.
This was one of the highlights of Sierra's day. She excitedly repeated over and over that when she got home she would tell Mommy that she saw a number five on the rock. Just when it seemed Sierra could not get any more excited we approached our destination for the hike: Lower Higgins Creek Falls.

It was a steep decent from the old road down to the base of the falls.
There was a user trail that led over roots, rocks, and slick mud down about 100 feet to some small pools of water. Sierra was excited to "dip piggies in the water" and so that's what we did.
We spent about a half-hour playing in the water
and enjoying the cool spray of the falls and shade.
Then Sierra ate a snack
before we carefully climbed back up to the old road for the return to the car. The return, being downhill, went fast. Before we knew it we were back to the parking area where we found, not only our car, but lots of butterflies lounging on the gravel of the road.
We admired the butterflies for a bit and then headed into Erwin for lunch.