This year ended just as it began - with a hike through the woods and to the falls we go!  Today's hike was to Twin Falls, the Falls on Avery Creek and finishing off with the falls off the Clawhammer Trail.

We began the hike by way of Buckhorn Gap Trail at around 10:30 in the morning.  The trail is relatively flat and crosses multiple log footbridges (I think I counted 8 on this trail alone with several more on the connecting trails).  The trail to Twin Falls intersects the Buckhorn Gap Trail at around 1.7 miles from the trailhead and continues past the first falls (not Twin Falls - keep going) before coming to a campsite at the base of the actual Twin Falls - each about 50-100 feet tall.  The campsite at the base has a great view of each set and would be quite the spot - but a little too cold for today.

Next we backtracked to the intersection of the Buckhorn Gap Trail and the side trail to Twin Falls, and took Buckhorn Gap Trail to Avery Creek Trail.  We followed Avery Creek Trail a short distance to connect with the Clawhammer Trail.  After following the stream, the trail takes a left away from the stream, and proceeds up the side of the mountain.  Instead of taking the trail, off we went to follow the stream instead, making our own trails in the world.  And to reward us - there were the falls - and not on any official map!  I stayed up top and took a few shots from there, while Rich was more adventurous and climbed down to the bottom for some better shots.  After we'd finished shooting from this vantage point, it was 3:00 and time to head back towards the trailhead.  We went back upstream and caught the Clawhammer trail, taking it back to the Avery Creek Trail.  We followed the Avery Creek Trail until we came to a beautiful waterfall right on Avery Creek.  We scrambled down the bank (this time I went too) and came to our final falls for this year, and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful scene.  We took some shots from the bank, scrambled back up to Avery Creek Trail and headed back to the Forest Service Road.  From there, we hiked a short distance up to the car, making a long loop from the starting point.

All in all a great way to end the year and  what a wonderful and eventful one it's been.  I can't wait for next year and all the years to come.

Today was more adventure.  Rich and I had been really hoping and wishing for snow and we got our wish last night.  We headed out from Hendersonville at around 9:30 AM.  By the time we arrived at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the sign in front of the parking lot indicated 441 was closed.  But inside the visitors center, the ranger said it would probably open up by 11:30.  So we jumped back in the car and lined up in front of the Smokemont Campground to wait.  Finally, the gates were opened by 11:50 and off we went in search of white stuff!!!  We were going to make a stop by the Blue Ridge Parkway to walk up a little way and see if there was some accumulation on the trees, but then decided to keep going into the Smokies.  We headed straight for Newfound Gap parking area and BOY did we find snow - maybe a good 3-4 inches of it in some places.  We played around in the snow, and captured some shots of some of the sledders as well.  Once we'd exhausted that area, it was off to Clingman's Dome Road.  We tried to walk far enough ahead that we could lose the footprints, but we never did lose the ski tracks from two men cross country ski-ing up the road.  Oh well, we still got the shots we wanted, and then headed back down the mountain before the roads iced over again.

What is it about certain places that evoke such emotions, such strong feelings of "belonging"?  For some, it's the sea.  Jacque Cousteau once said "The Sea, Once it casts its spell holds one in its net of wonder forever."  The mountains evoke the same symbolic spell.  It's been several weeks since I've been home and the absence was becoming too strong to resist.  Luckily, it was time for our annual New Years celebration, true "Stevenson" style - with several wonderful hikes - tromping through frosty leaves, breathing in the smell of christmas pine, fresh dew and the sweet scent of woods on a clear day, listening the babbling brook and cascading water of those wonderful falls rushing over rock millions of years old.  Today's outing was to Cove Creek Falls and then down the road to Daniel Ridge Falls.  

The trail began on an old road bed and quickly came to a washed out road.  Luckily, the trail had been rerouted over a footbridge since it's was a little too chilly for a dip today.  On we went through a very curious looking arch constructed from interwoven vines.  We finally came to the intersection with Caney Bottom Trail and followed that to the bottom of the stream.  From there, we took an unmarked trail upstream.  All of sudden, we could see it!  As if magically placed there just for us, we saw a wonderful rush of water and scrambled over the stream for a better view from the other side.  

After we paused here for a while, we took off back up stream and decided to follow the Caney Bottom Loop Trail out to the Group Campground.  And what a fantastic group camground, big enough for at least 100 of your closest friends!  And if that's not enough - your own small casades directly opposite the campsite, ready for squeeling children sliding down the smooth, cold, glassy surface, much as small children have probably been doing for centuries (and probably the adults as well!).  

From there, it was back to the car and down the road to the Daniel Ridge trailhead.  After crossing over a large metal bridge, we followed the trail to Daniel Ridge Falls.  I'd been here before, but had not been able to see it with this much water.  And so ended another wonderful day in paradise with the person I love with my heart - my husband Rich.  I'm sure Mr. Cousteau would have been in the spell of these magnificent mountains today.