Friday, December 19, 2014

Rocky Fork State Park: Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs

Today Noelle and I had my parents as babysitters and so we took advantage of the situation and went out for a hiking "date". This was only the 5th time we've been out together alone since Sierra was born 26 months ago. We decided to head over to Rocky Fork, an area of land which has only recently been opened to the public. It was private property until purchased by some conservation buyers and has been transferred to both the State of Tennessee and the US Forest Service.

We made the drive through Greene and Washington Counties and entered Unicoi County. We drove I-26 to the exit for the Tennessee Visitor Center and Rest Area and then headed off into the Rocky Fork area. We parked at a gate near an old home site where only a chimney remains,
and hiked on a closed, gravel road along Rocky Fork.
The area is really beautiful and we particularly the small waterfalls and cascades on Rocky Fork.

Eventually our route veered away from the main stream and we followed an old road that was a bit overgrown but occasionally marked by flagging tape. Sometimes the old road followed the bed of a small stream, and so the walk through this section tended to be muddy. Soon enough the old road left the stream and crested a saddle. It was at this saddle that our route followed the ridgeline up and up to our destination. Close to the end of the ascent we saw a bear, just a little one and it seems to have been alone. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the little guy.

After seeing the bear, it was just a short, but steep,
walk up to the summit of Whitehouse Mountain. We enjoyed the view from the summit which included nearby I-26 into NorthCarolina and down into the "Valley Beautiful".
We ate a snack there
and took a photo of the two of us
before heading back down the mountain.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ijams Nature Center: Jo's Grove and Secret Pond Trail

With Mom and Dad in town we decided to head over to Knoxville for the day. Our first stop was the always amazing Ijams Nature Center. We checked out the exhibits inside and then headed over to the nature play area which they call Jo's Grove.
There is a construction project of some sort going on at Jo's Grove, but enough of the area is still open that we were able to explore it a bit and Sierra had a fun time going inside the cabin
and some of the artistic structures there.

After playing, we headed over to the Secret Pond Trail. We hiked the short trail,
not knowing what it led to. It turns out that it led to an unimpressive old stock pond that whose waters were covered with a thin green coating of duck weed. There was a chimney nearby, along with a bench that Pop-Pop used to rest his aching knees.

After a short rest,

we returned to the car and then drove into Knoxville for dinner at Tupelo Honey Cafe and a walk around downtown.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mount LeConte via Trillium Gap Trail

I've had a bit of cold lately. However, when I awoke this morning I was feeling a bit better and decided it would be okay to go for a hike today. I headed over to the Smokies so that I could add over 100 miles of new trail miles hiked in the park for 2014. Before today's hike I was just under 100 miles at 99.2 for the year. I drove to the Cherokee Orchard Trailhead where I found my car was the first to be parked in the lot for the day. I hit the trail hiking on the lower reaches of the Trillium Gap Trail
which very closely parallel the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

Eventually the trail stops paralleling the road and becomes a wide, well-trodden path that hundreds of hikers use every day in the spring, summer, and fall to reach Grotto Falls. On this particular day, I had the trail all to myself though. I soon found myself approaching Grotto Falls.
The trail actually goes behind the falls and is a pretty little cascade.
I decided not to stop near the cold spray of the falls and continued on my ascent up Mount LeConte. I saw some sign of bear in the form of a huge pile of scat.
bear poop
No bears would be seen on this day, however.

As I ascended higher, limited views opened up through the leafless trees.
I started to see icicles along the trail
and there were even a few areas where water that had run across the trail had frozen.
Still, there was no need for traction devices. I knew I was near the lodge area when I saw a "No Horses" sign.
Sure enough I was soon in the lodge complex. LeConte Lodge is mostly abandoned right now. The only person up there is the winter caretaker, the lodge is not open to guests in the winter. The dining hall was boarded up and the date sign did not show today's date.
I stopped to use the one unlocked restroom, took a last look back
and then began my descent on the Rainbow Falls Trail which I had ascended a few weeks ago.

It was a fast descent. I saw one other hiker high up on the mountain. He was wearing a running singlet and running shorts while I was bundled up with my fleece and mittens. He told me he had seen a large bear a mile down the trail, but the bear never did show himself to me. I stopped briefly at Rainbow Falls
before making the rest of the trip down to the car. Altogether, the hike was about 14.5 miles with 8 miles of new trail to add to make a total of 107.2 for the year.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site: Holiday Open House

Here are some images of the Andrew Johnson Homestead and Visitor Center decked out for the holidays. Hope you enjoy!