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.

My DH, Rich, and I decided to do what any sane person would do the day after Thanksgiving - avoid the shopping and work off that turkey dinner from the day before - and those 500 calorie cupcakes!  So, we took off for the trail to  Looking Glass Rock.  I had tried the trail one time previously, but had to turn back before I made it to the top due to slick ice all over the trail.  This time, we made it to the top.  Surprisingly, there were only a few people there and none stayed long so we had the place to ourselves for a while.  The hike was a great way to get out and enjoy the day.  Tomorrow promises to be colder, so we'll just have to see if there's anymore hiking this weekend.  This is probably the last weekend for a while that I'll be up in the mountains.  Every winter, Rich travels to Florida and hit the Great Florida Birding Trail.  Next weekend will be Merritt Island and we're really looking forward to trying out those long lenses for some shots of new birds (new to us anyway!). 

It's been slow on the hiking side so I've spent some time catching up on documenting some of our past hikes - I've added a couple of hikes we took this summer on the Trail Descriptions page.  It also keeps me dreaming of spring time.

In another month or so, we'll be heading out on our "winter adventures".  Every year, we spend time hiking in Florida, photographing the migrating and wintering birds and soaking up the mild Florida winter sun.  Merritt Island is one of our favorites, so that will be top on our list.  I also hope to do a trip down to the Everglades sometime next year before it starts to heat up again.  But we'll see if I can fit that one on the agenda. 

Until then, have a Happy Thanksgiving and wishing an uneventful travel for all those going to Grandma's house for the holiday!
We decided to go over to the Wilson Creek area of the PIsgah National Forest today to explore Little Lost Cove Cliffs.  While you can make this a loop hike of about 4.5 miles, we opted to take the shorter route to the cliffs.  First stop was to explore the remains of an old homestead (including an abandoned, rusted out wood stove) and then on to the main trail.  After a nice hike through an old apple orchard, we finally reached the cliffs.  What a view!!  And to top it off, we saw 2 Peregrine Falcons.  It appears we were there right around the time they usually close off the cliffs due to Peregrine activity, so we really lucked out on being in the right place at the right time.   

We had decided to get up early and get to Clingman's Dome for a sunrise.  Well...  we changed our minds once the alarm went off!  So, back to bed until the VERY LATE hour of 8:00 (that's late for us).  We still managed to get there before a lot of the crowds and secured a parking spot near the trail to the Dome.  For this hike, we decided to hike on the Appalachian Trail (or Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail).  The views were supposedly much better and an even bigger benefit was that there were practically no crowds.  During the fall season, it's truly a sport to find places that you can still see a beautiful fall view but not be elbowed and jostled.  We were doing great on that count so far, and this hike was no exception.  It was approximately the same distance from the parking lot to the tower; it seemed to me that the hike was less straight uphill and more enjoyable; and the views were incredible!!  From now on if I go up to the Dome, it will be via the Bypass Trail!!

For the the third day of our fall adventure, we decided on two hikes - one to Grotto Falls near Gatlinburg, TN and the second hike to the Walker Sisters homestead on the Metcalf Bottoms Trail.  We got to Grotto Falls quite early and were the first ones at the falls that morning giving us some great opportunities to grab some shots before the crowds began.  Grotto Falls is a nice hike but can get very crowded.  In addition, parking is very limited, so if you do this hike, you'll need to get there early or park somewhere further down the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. 

After the Grotto Falls hike, we went on to Metcalf Bottoms off of Little River Road.  The highlights of this hike are the old one room Schoolhouse (complete with the cemetery in front of the school) and the maintained homestead of the Walker Sisters.  The Walker sisters were five spinsters who lived out their lives on this farm, clinging to traditional ways of their parents.  After the park was formed in the 1930s they obtained a lifetime lease from the NPS (as was typical for most mountains folks of that time) where they lived until the last sister died in 1979. 

If you continue beyond the turn off to the Walker Sisters, the trail continues on as the Little Greenbrier Trail.  We decided to go on that trail, as we heard there were some views to be had.  The trail was a wonderful fall landscape and did provide some glimpses of the bejeweled mountains with her fall colors in brilliant display.

For day 2, we started out at Cades Cove to try to get some shots of the houses
and barns in full foliage.  Then it was back to Elkmont for a hike down Jakes
Creek.  Elkmont is the site of an old logging town that was then turned into a
resort town.  Now the area is within the boundaries of the National Park and is
not maintained at this time (although there have been restoration plans
discussed for some of the old houses).  Jakes Creek wanders down a nice, wide
old road and provides glimpses into the town's past.  While exploring within the
homes is definately not allowed (and due to the condition would be very
foolhardy), the outside gives unique glimpses into the lives of the folks that
left this place in order to provide a National Park for generations to come. 
This is the type of trail to wander slowly, pondering the lives that have come
before and to silently acknowledge the sacrificies their families have made for
this park.  The trail begins at the Jakes Creek Trailhead within Elkmont
Campground.  While you can stop at the end of the houses (approximately .3 of a
mile), Jakes Creek Trail continues for a total of 3.3 miles and ends at the

intersection with Panther Creek Trail.  Another option is to take the trail on
to the left at .3 miles for a loop on the Cucumber Gap Trail. Or you can go
right at .4 mile to Meigs Mountain Trail which eventually ends at The Sinks off
of Little River Road.

Indian Springs - October 14, 2012
Every year for fall, my husband and I spend a week camping and hiking the
mountains of North Carolina, searching out the wonderful fall color and trying
to avoid the crowds at the same time.  With a little planning and a lot of
walking, you can achieve this nirvana state!  The first hike of the trip was to
a new waterfall (new to us) - Indian Flat Falls.  This was a fairly easy 7.6
mile round trip hike that begins at the Tremont Trail head near Townsend
Tennessee.  The trail follows an old, wide railroad grade creating a nice hiking
surface.  This is a multi-use trail, so you will have to dodge the horses (and
the droppings!).  The trail follows the stream for the most part, giving
wonderful views of small cascades along the way, including a small waterfall
called Lynn Camp Prong Falls.  Stop and enjoy this one, but keep going - there's
more ahead.  At approximately 2 miles, an unmarked side trail on the right leads
to the remains of an old Cadillac (you have to look hard for the trail, but it
is marked by a small cairn).  At approximately 3.5 miles, you'll cross a
wonderful little log bridge.  You'll quickly lose the creek, but as you near the
falls, you'll hear the unmistakable sound at approximately 3.75 miles.  Take the
spur trail on the right (the trail leads off from what looks like a solid rock
wall once you round a corner) which will take you to the upper falls.  While the
lower falls are accessible with some scrambling, the views are best from the
upper falls.