Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hiking Persimmon Ridge Park

Today the family needed to get outside and hike around together. We did not want to go too far, and so we opted to head up the road to Jonesborough, Tennessee and hike at Persimmon Ridge Park. First we stopped by Ingles to get some food for a picnic lunch. Once we had acquired our food, we headed over to the picnic pavilion and ate.

Felling full we hit the trail. The trail system at Persimmon Ridge Park is not well marked and is a bit confusing. This site might help sort things out a bit. We started of on a boardwalk near the picnic shelter.
walking towards bridge
on bridge
The wet soils alongside the boardwalk harbored blue lobelia
and other wildflowers.
yellow flowers
Once we reached the opposite side of the boardwalk we found a road and turned right onto it. We saw a sign for Walter's Trail, but we opted to stay on the road (John's Trail). Sierra insisted on hiking on her own for a bit and so the going was very slow.
Sierra on trail
Moving slow gave us the opportunity to check out some interesting caterpillars though.
Finally, we convinced Sierra to ride in the backpack.
Sierra and Daddy
We made our way through a powerline cut in which goldenrods
and asters
were prevalent. Then we started to ascend on the road past an area posted as off-limits
keep out Frankenstein
and up to a large water tower.

A trail looped around the fire tower and back towards where we started.
Instead of following the boardwalk back to the car, we opted to follow a different trail to see where it lead. We got Sierra to agree that following the trail was a good idea because we told her that it probably led to the playground. We crossed a small creek
on a footbridge and then began an ascent on singletrack trail. After topping out the trail, Luke's Trail, began a descent down to the playground. I left Noelle and Sierra there to play while I followed a paved trail back to the car. We all got rained on while I retrieved the car, but I thought the light, cool rain felt rather pleasant.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Big Cataloochee Mountain via Palmer Creek, Balsam Mountain, and Mt Sterling Ridge Trails

It was nice to get a day to myself for some hiking in the great outdoors. I woke up early and headed out the door just before 5:30. I was bound for the Cataloochee section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an ambitious loop hike on the Palmer Creek, Balsam Mountain, Mount Sterling Ridge and Pretty Hollow Gap Trails with a short bushwhack up to Big Cataloochee's 6,155 foot summit. After a quick breakfast in Newport, I arrived in Cataloochee and drove through a pleasant light fog.
Cataloochee Road
I got out of the car for a quick look at a few members of the park's elk herd, a male and his harem of females,
elk in foggy splendor
and then drove on to the trailhead.

I parked and hit the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail at 7:35. I passed the horse campground and headed into the woods, closely following Pretty Hollow Creek.
Pretty Hollow Creek
After a mile and a half I turned left onto the Palmer Creek Trail and started a pretty steep ascent. The trail followed its namesake Palmer Creek pretty closely at first.
Besides the creek, there were lots of wildflowers in bloom: goldenrods,
and white snakeroot
white snakeroot
being the most plentiful. There were some other species in bloom in riparian areas
turtle head
including jewelweed.
Besides the wildflowers there were some mushrooms scattered here and there
and berries had taken residence where just a few weeks ago wildflowers lived.

After passing some type of monitoring station
monitoring station
I found myself on the Balsam Mountain Road. I followed the road for about .7 mile to the Balsam Mountain Trail.
Balsam Mountain trailhead
There were a few cars parked along the road at the trailhead for the Balsam Mountain Trail. Written in the dust of the rear window on a mini-van was a statement that roughly read: "Saw 2 bears near here. One was close." This would prove to be prophetic. After climbing a bit on the Balsam Mountain Trail, things leveled a bit. As I turned a corner I saw it. It was a bear.
bear on trail
It wasn't too large, but it was standing directly on the trail about 50 yards in front of me. It didn't seem to even notice me, and so I stood silently and watched for a bit. I took a few photos and then started to make some noise to let the bear know I was near. It seemed curious about me.
bear sees me
As it seemed to not be fazed by presence, I started to get a little bit nervous and so I started to yell at the bear. Finally, it got my message and took off into the woods.

As I approached the spot I had seen the bear I was extremely cautious, as I was not sure there weren't more bears nearby. I never did see another bear the rest of my hike though. I would, however, find plenty more evidence of bears on my hike. Eventually I stopped to eat a snack of trail mix.
I found a perfect log to sit on and rest. When I had resumed my hike, the trail was mostly level; up on a high ridge. I passed through some of the thickest white snakeroot patches I've ever seen.
trail thru flowers
The trail was exceedingly pleasant.
winding trail
After the junction with the Beech Gap Trail,
I started to ascend a bit more, up into the spruces and firs.
Eric on trail
I reached the Laurel Gap Shelter and stopped to rest and drink some water.
Laurel Gap shelter
There was a guy there eating lunch. he told me that he was from Toledo and we talked for a bit while we studied our maps. He was headed out to the road after several nights in the backcountry.

Eventually I got up to move on. I soon found the junction with the Mt Sterling Ridge Trail and turned onto it. Information I had read online stated that there was a "manway" leadin up Big Cataloochee summit "50 yards beyond the crossing of a shallow, but wide stream". After crossing a wide, wet seep that flowed across the trail I paced off 50 yards. I saw nothing that resembled a trail and so I decided to just thrash about in the woods. Luckily, I had brought my GPS unit with me and so I plugged in the coordinates for Big Cataloochee summit and slowly plodded up through thick vegetation.
It took a while, but eventually I found the summit, marked by some moss-covered flagging tape.
Big Cataloochee summit
I took a photo there and then thrashed my way down. The descent went much faster than the ascent.

I was relieved to be back on the trail. Bushwhacking in the eastern US is exhausting. I made my way east on the mostly level trail and started to see lots of bear sign. There were bear scat, areas where the earth had been torn up as bears rooted around for roots and  insect larvae, and some of the most perfectly intact bear tracks I've seen!
bear track
Besides bear sign, the high elevation Mt Sterling Ridge Trail offered an early glimpse of fall color.
fall color
Eventually I found myself at the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, which I had hiked about a year ago for the long descent back down into the Cataloochee Valley.

The hike was all downhill and went pretty fast. The early stages of the descent were high above Pretty Hollow Creek and I could occasionally hear what sounded like people throwing boulders into the water from high above. Could the sound have been a bear turning over rocks in a search for food? I guess I'll never know. The later stages of the hike were close to water and I enjoyed the sound of the cascading creek
another casccade
as I made the return trip to my car.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Western North Carolina Nature Center

I took off an extra day to celebrate Sierra's third birthday with family. We decided to head over to Asheville to do some exploring. Our first stop was the delicious Ultimate Ice cream. I had vanilla cherry chocolate chip and it was yummy! Sierra enjoyed her mint chocolate chip. (And some of Mommy's too!)
ice cream
After ice cream, we headed over to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. We had all been there before, as we had visited as part of Sierra's first birthday celebration. This time Sierra was able to enjoy the animals and interactive exhibits a bit more.

We started off passing through a garden area and inside to some reptiles and amphibians. There was an interesting pine snake that liked to dig in the sandy soil in its terrarium. Then we headed outside to the otters. There is an "otter slide" that Sierra took advantage of.
sliding Sierra
Unfortunately, the otters were sleepy when we arrived
sleeping otter
and so we moved on to the barnyard animals.
farmer Grandpas
Near the poultry palace is a huge egg that Sierra posed inside.
Sierra in egg
We petted a goat and looked at the newly sheared sheep, before heading over to check out the bears.

After observing the two bored-looking bears
and checking out some birds of prey, we headed over to the spider web climbing area.
spider Mommy
I had fun climbing around on the webs, as did Sierra and Noelle.
from above
climbing Sierra
Once we got the climbing out of our system we checked out the gray and red wolves.
Pop Pop wolf
Then we headed to the nature play area where Sierra played some music on wooden blocks.
playing music

We decided to go back and check out the otters again, and I'm glad we did. It was feeding time when we arrived.
feeding otter
We watched the two otters eat and then swim around in the water for a bit. Finally, we headed over to the large turtle statue to have some family photos taken.
family on turtle 2
grandparents and turtle
We left as the nature center closed at 5 pm and then headed over to Sierra Nevada for dinner and, of course, some beer. After eating, we went to check out the Backporch
Sierra Nevada backporch
and the pleasant organic gardens.

Update of March 20, 2016:

Today was to have been our last family trip to Asheville for a while, as we prepare to move to Minnesota. Unfortunately, Noelle was not feeling well, and so Sierra and I made the trip by ourselves. As we made the drive across the mountains it became apparent that Sierra was not feeling herself either. We made the best of our day though and headed back to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Many of the animals seemed to be quite inactive. We looked at the birds of prey
Sierra red tailed hawk
and other animals and had the opportunity to hike on the Trillium Cove Trail for the first time.
Sierra on Trail
We were just a bit too early to see some of the wildflowers in bloom, but we did see some emerging mayapple,
some bloodroot that was about to bloom,
and a few other early wildflowers that I am unable to identify.
unknown flower