Picture
Our last day of this spring vacation!  And what another great vacation it's been.  We actually didn't pack as much into the several days as we usually do, which made for a nice change - we got to sleep late several mornings, which is really unusual for us.  But after some overnight rain, we woke up and decided to head up the Blue Ridge Parkway a bit to the old homestead of Moses Cone and hike up to the fire tower.  The wind REALLY picked up while we were there and it was hard walking along the open meadows, much less climb up the fire tower.  But Rich braved it and did get to climb up - I stayed with my feet on the ground and was quite happy. 

After that, we decided to do one more hike on a different section of the Tanawha trail (had some nice views of Grandfather from this portion) and then called it a day. 

What a great way to spend our second anniversary.


 
 
Picture
Day 4 and we're off for the peaks of Hawksbill and Tablerock.  Those are the peacks that we've been seeing from Wiseman's view and I've wanted to get to the top of both, so we decided to go for it.  It's not a long hike, but it's uphill both ways!  Okay, not both ways, but it sure feels like it when you're done.  The view from on top of both are incredible and not to be missed!  However one word of caution - the wind on top can become intense, to the point that it was difficult to stand at times.  The ride to Tablerock gave us further glimpses into the fire from last year, and it was even more intense when we started the hike.  But it was heartening to see all the various plants arising from the burnt soil - it also makes you realize the great skill and sacrifice of the many forest firefighters. 

Once we finished those two hikes, we decided we were done for the day, and went back to relax. 


 
 
Picture
For the next day, we decided to hit Little Lost Cove Cliffs.  It's one of my favorite hikes, especially the way we hiked it - coming in from the convergence of the North Harper Creek Falls Trail and the Little Lost Cove Cliffs Trail.  That route takes you through an old apple orchard, long abandoned, but a wonderful place for bird watching.  We were lucky enough to spot a Blue Grosbeak this trip.  The total roundrip is 1.4 miles, and is not a difficult hike all especially given the fantastic views.  From the top, you can see Grandfather and Grandmother mountains. 

From there, we decided to go back to camp, grab a lunch and a shower and head back out to Wiseman's VIew.  In November 2013,a fire began at Table Rock picnic area and within two weeks had consumed approximately 2600 acres in the Linville Gorge area.  You can definitely see the devastation from Wiseman's VIew.  We stayed there for a while, enjoying the solitude and the company (and Rich got to launch the quad copter) before heading back to the campsite for another evening relaxing beside the fire.





 
 
Picture
For the second day, we decided to hit Big Lost Cove Cliffs and then Little Lost Cove Cliffs in the Wilson Creek Wilderness Area.  The Wilson Creek area is one of my favorites combining spectacular views and beautiful waterfalls bordered on the north by Grandfather Mountain, the south by Linville Gorge and nestled between the Linville River and the Wilson Creek on it's West and East sides respectively.  The total acreage of the Upper Creek area is approximately 9,000 with approximately 5,000 of those being roadless and another 1,000 of old growth forest.  There are several viewpoints along this trail, some used by climbers and some cliffs sporting homes for Peregrine Falcons.  At the top is a very nice and well maintained large campsite for those wanting to extend your stay on the cliffs to an overnighter - although since this is about 3.5 miles roundtrip, it's certainly not necessary in order to see the cliffs.

Finally to top off the day, we took a quick hike down small portion of the Tanawha trail to view the Linn Cove Viaduct and get some shots from that viewpoint.  All in all - another great day!  Then home to the campsite for a blazing fire, some food, and a much appreciated sleep.

 
 
Picture
Every year for our anniversary, we set out for a great camping adventure - doesn't matter where really, just as long as it involves a tent, the mountains, and the two of us!  So this year we decided to head over to Linville Gorge area and camp at the Linville Falls Campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The first day was relaxing - we set up camp and took a hike to the upper levels of Linville.  Nothing spectacular as far as the shooting goes, but a so-so day outside is worth the greatest day inside at work!  And it was a great start to our vacation.  We also managed to get a wonderful little campsite that was right next to an open meadow and the Linville River. 

 
 
Picture
Spring is finally here, so we officially kicked off the hiking season with a trip to Collins Creek Quiet Walkway.  Not what most people think about for hiking, but we had been on this short trail before in the summer and saw that it had great Spring wildflower potential.  So, we went back today, and we certainly weren't disappointed!  I love the little quiet walkways in the Smokies - they're great leg stretchers, usually very quiet without a lot of people, and give everyone an opportunity to experience a taste of the Smokies.  The trail was packed with trilliums, violets, chickweed and all sorts of beautiful flowers.  We heard a lot of birds as well, but unfortunately, they were so high up in the trees, we couldn't get a good shot of them.  But we still scored BIG in the wildfiower department on this trip.  Definitely recommend this short hike if you're in the area.

 
 
PictureWaterfall at Florence Nature Preserve
Florence Nature Preserve is a new acquisition of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in Upper Hickory Nut Gorge in Gerton.  The trail we took today was relatively new so we wanted to check it out for spring wildflowers and to check out the waterfalls there (supposedly two of them).  This trail just recently opened to the public and the signs were just up.  Since we got there a little late (had to work a 1/2 day), we decided to not do the entire trail but rather to hit the two waterfalls for a straight out and back.  We found the first waterfall easily.  It was more a small cascade, about 7-10 feet tall.  The second one was much harder to locate.  We ended up overshooting the small side trail and had to backtrack.  Dear hubby found it on the way back - that one was a long narrow slide with lovely moss covered rocks, but not too spectacular.  We did see wildflowers as well, along with a number of birds (none of which we were patient enough to capture shots of).  The hike overall was somewhat strenuous in spots, but in very good condition.  Hopefully we can make it back and check out the remaining trail sections when we have a full day. 

 
 
PictureCattle Egret at La Chua Trail
For our next birding trip, we decided to go back to a reliable birding and wildlife place - Payne's Prairie in Gainesville, Florida.  In addition to birds, they also have a herd of bison as well as a herd of wild horses.  We didn't see either on this trip (but we really weren't looking for them, so not too disappointed there).  We did spot a few new birds and got some better shots of some of the ones we already had.  On this trip, I did get to add a White Crowned Sparrow to my life list, so this is starting out to be a great birding year.  Maybe this year I'll practice that patience and sit quietly for hours waiting for the birds so I can get those rare ones or that perfect shot of the ones I may already have - naaaahhh!  Not happening yet - maybe next time.  I can only sit still for 20 minutes and then it's off to the next spot.  Maybe when I retire :)


 
 
Picture
My husband and I started this year out the same way we have for the last couple of years - hitting the birding hotspots in Florida.  The upgraded website ebird.org is an absolute must for any birder.  We always hit their site before we take off to see what we might spot.  I had been hearing about Snowy Owl spottings recently in Florida at Little Talbot Island.  According to bioligist with Cornnel, this could be the largest migration south for these birds in the last thirty years.  We may never get another opportunity, so we decided to see if we could spot one.  We got there right as the park was opening, and went straight to the dunes identified on ebird as the site of the sightings and sure enough - we sited it!!  Very exciting!  Okay, you get the picutre.  We shared the dunes with several other early morning photographers - all of us staying well back from the owl to ensure she wasn't disturbed.  After that, we took a few more shots of others shore birds, then decided to hit Ft. Clinch State Park,  Once again, we hit the bird jackpot - someone had seen a Harlequin Duck which was another species we'd never seen.  We did manage to spot it with the help of a very nice fella with a scope, but it was too far away for the shots to show anything.  I did manage though to capture a Black Scoter - again a new species for me. 


 
 
Picture
Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley.
We decide to get an early start today to avoid the possible thunderstorms and also to beat the holiday crowds.  We figured Panthertown Valley would be a good hike - lots of waterfalls, beautiful forest, and not a lot of people. Panthertown Valley is one of the most unique places in North Carolina.  It consists of over 10,000 acres in the Nantahala National Forest and is comprised of a network of official trails, old logging roads and many unofficial trails.  Even the "official" trails can be hard to follow - at this time none of the trails have a blaze and there are multiple shortcuts that can lead one astray.  Always have a good map and a compass when attempting any hikes in this area.  We got to the East Entrance (Cold Mountain Entrance) at 8:30 and there were only a handful of cars at the trailhead.  Rich knows the trails in this area and has an original map showing some of the unmarked and unofficial trails so he led the way.  And good thing he did - I would NEVER have found my way out.  It wasn't a difficult hike at all - but at times the trail was merely a small path and sometimes led to a dead end, causing us to backtrack and take another path.  But it was a great adventure (as usual!).  We took the trail to Schoolhouse Falls and from there, took a path on the other side of the falls and followed the creek upstream.  Once we left Schoolhouse Falls we didn't see another person the entire time - we had the other falls all to ourselves!  Remarkable for a holiday weekend.  We were going to make it a longer loop, but unfortunately, the thunder started, so we took a shortcut back to the road and to our car and back home.  Can't wait for tomorrow's adventure - Twin Falls in the Pisgah!