17-18 November 2012: Seeing the Seays and on to the Smokies
On Saturday, November 17th I started the drive to Tucson where Betsy and I will again be snow birding this winter.
I will be spending the month of December in Tucson with hiking buddies. In early January Betsy flies out and we will spend Jan-March in Green Valley. We will be at the same house as last year so we will already know the lay of the land and get settled in quickly.
On this drive west I decided to take the opportunity to visit some friends along the way and stop a few places I have not been before. My first stop was in Johnson City TN to visit JB, Rebecca and the boys.
JB and I worked on some trail projects in Morgantown back in the days of the Mon Valley Green Space Coalition (GSC). The GCS, under the leadership Of Greg Good was instrumental in arranging funding, as well as the design and overseeing the construction of trails in Morgantown City Parks.
When I first met JB he and Rebecca were still dating. Now, they are raising a family in the beautiful Mountains of northern Tennessee. A great place to be if you like "the Outdoor Life".
My visit was a short one and on Sunday morning, after going over maps with JB I started the drive to Gatlinburg where I would be spending three nights. I had already highlighted a proposed "back roads" route to Gatlinburg so as to avoid the interstate and larger roadways.
I left JB and Rebecca's at 9:30 and after several wrong turns which ended up in backtracking, going north instead of south and looping back on the road from which I just came, I arrived at Gatlinburg around noon.
But, the drive was quite scenic and I went through some very remote feeling areas, especially in Cocke County.
Cocke County had a long-standing reputation in the surrounding area as a center of illegal activity, particularly the production of and trafficking in moonshine, both during Prohibition and in subsequent years, when most of East Tennessee, including Cocke County, remained officially "dry". The county also developed a reputation for prostitution in the years during and after World War II.
At the eastern edge of the park there is a short section of scenic roadway called the Foothills Parkway. I opted to take this route. I stopped at several of the pull outs to take in the views of the valley and mountains.
This is one of the pull offs on the Foothills Parkway. I decided to see if I could find any interesting plants on the rock cut and wandered over to take a look.
This was the last plant I expected to see! All along the bottom of the rock face was I found plants of the Climbing Fern (Lygodium palmatum). I thought of Joan in Pittsburg who loves this plant. She would have been delighted to see it.
I had never seen Climbing Fern growing out of crack in a rock before. And this was a west facing slope which must be like and inferno in the summer.
About 20 minutes later I was on the outskirts of Gatlinburg. As warned I found a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam and the sidewalks so clotted with people they were nearly pushed out into the roadway.
Although Gatlinburg is on the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you would never know it to see it.
Betsy's cousin Ryan described his experience thus "... the town of Gatlinburg was very much National Park meets Disney World". What a mess. As I crawled down the main drag gawking at all the gawkers I was amazed so many people would come here so they could wait in line to get into the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, or get into Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum and pay 10 bucks to park their car. Bizarre!
Here is just a smattering of some of the "attractions" in Gatlinburg.
Gatlinburg is an important tourism destination in Tennessee, with many man-made attractions, and it borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ober Gatlinburg is the only ski resort in Tennessee. It has eight ski trails and three chair lifts, and is accessible via roads and a gondola from the city strip. The Gatlinburg Trolley, a privately-funded public transit system, caters to area tourists.
Another popular attraction is Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies which also features special exhibits covering subjects such as the Titanic, pirates and more recently the planet Mars. Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country, which are both named for Dolly Parton, are amusement parks located in nearby Pigeon Forge.
There is a walk-through haunted house known as the "Mysterious Mansion". Vincent "Val" Valentine built this attraction in 1980. It is similar to "Old House" at Panama City Beach, Florida's now-defunct Miracle Strip Amusement Park.
Hollywood Star Cars Museum features Mayberry's Squad Car, The Beverly Hillbillies jalopy, DRAG-U-LA from The Munsters, Batmobile, Camaro from Charlie's Angels, General Lee, and Herbie the Love Bug which were designed by George Barris.
Actually, one of the main reasons I ended up in this area was to visit "Dollywood" which is located in nearby Pigeon Forge.
Dolly Rebecca Parton (born January 19, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, and philanthropist, best known for her work in country music.
You see, I had heard a rumor about a new attraction at Dollywood which had caught my attention. It was called "The Cleavage Dive". Now, how could I resist that!!! The heck with hiking - let's dive!!!
I finally made my way through town and traffic vanished immediately - at least the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was a warm and sunny day and lots of people were out and about.
I passed the National Park Visitors center on the out skirts of town and then took advantage of one of the pull-outs to decide on an afternoon hike.
I had originally decided to go to Clingmans Dome, which t 6,643 feet is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains NP.
However, this is one of the most heavily visited sites in the park and requires only half mile walk on a paved trail and I knew it would be very busy on such a nice day.
So, I opted for another hike, the Chimney Tops trail. It was longer: 4 miles round trip with about 1200 ' of elevation gain. And it was less of a drive to get to the trail head .
When I got to the Chimney Tops trail parking area I saw not one empty spot. But at that instant a car pulled out to leave and I got a space. Lucky me.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
I got some food and water together and hit the trail.
Within 50 feet of the parking area is this sign. Fair warning...
I knew I would see this sight but that made it no less sad. Here, flanked by two dead siblings stands a still live Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri). Mortality has been in the 90-99% range so it is probably safe to say millions of trees are now dead.
What caused this? A tiny little critter called the Balsam woolly adelgid.
Balsam woolly adelgids (Adelges piceae) are small wingless insects that infest and kill firs, especially Balsam Fir and Fraser Fir. They are an invasive species from Europe introduced to the United States around 1900.
Because this predator is not native, the Fraser fir has not evolved any type of defense against it. These insects typically lay about one hundred eggs and have three generations per year. The adelgid attacks the tree by feeding in fissures within the bark of trees larger than about four centimeters in diameter at breast height. As it feeds, it releases toxins contained within its saliva. These toxins reduce the conductance of sapwood being built, which causes water stress and kills the trees.
As if this was not bad enough the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is killing many of the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in the Great Smoky Mountains. Because of the huge size of older trees Hemlocks are sometimes referred to as the redwood of the east. Now, soon these will be gone as well.
Fortunately there are still many beautiful old trees in the Smokies. On this hike I saw huge Yellow Birch and various species of Oaks and Hickories.
This is one of several bridges the Chimney Tops trail crosses. These two folks were part of a steady stream of people on the trail. Fortunately it never seemed crowded like I am sure the trail to Clingmans's Dome would have been.
Most of the upper branches of the big deciduous trees were covered with lichens. Here we see two types - foliose and crustose growing on the same piece of broken branch.
The trail to the Chimney Tops is all up hill with some steep sections which climb narrow ravines. Sections of the trail are muddy and rocky. However, recent trail work has been done which has gentrified some of the more difficult sections.
Here we are at the summit - or close to it.
There was a time when I would have been right behind these 2 20-somethings. But, no more. Over the years I have become less and less sure of my footing and balance on steep, slick sections of trail such as this. And that dreadful feeling of "high anxiety" does not help. So, I contented myself by basking in the sun and watching people go up and down the rocky, narrow spine of the mountain.
The woman in red shorts was actually crawling on her hands and knees for a while. Something I have done on the past when I found the high anxiety more than I could cope with.
Here is my view as I relaxed in the sun. It is hard to tell but the slopes seen here are peppered with thousand of dead fir and hemlock.
On the way back down I tried my hand at taking some snaps of the cascades along the West Prong Little Pigeon River
19 November 2012: Clingmans Dome and Andrews Bald
Much of Monday morning was consumed by web work and I did not get out of the hotel until around noon which put me at the parking lot of Clingmans Dome around 1:00.
It was another warm and sunny day and I had lots of company on my walk up to the Dome observation point.
As you can see here Clingmans Dome nearly straddles the TN/NC state lines
Clingmans Dome (or Clingman's Dome) is a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, in the southeastern United States. At an elevation of 6,643 feet (2,025 m), it is the highest mountain in the Smokies, the highest point in the state of Tennessee, and the highest point along the 2,174-mile (3,499 km) Appalachian Trail. East of the Mississippi River, only Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet / 2,037 metres) and Mount Craig (6,647 feet / 2,026 metres) are higher.
Clingmans Dome is protected as part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A paved road, closed from December 1 through March 31, connects it to U.S. Highway 441 (Newfound Gap Road). The concrete observation tower, built in 1959, offers a panoramic view of the mountains in every direction. An air quality monitoring station, operated by the Environmental Protection Agency, is the second highest in eastern North America.
The other line seen here is the Appalachian Trail which goes through the heart of the Smokies.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the AT, is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The precise length of the trail changes over time as trails are modified or added. The total length is approximately 2,200 miles (3,500 km) long. The trail passes through the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The path is maintained by 30 trail clubs and multiple partnerships, and managed by the National Park Service and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy.The majority of the trail is in wilderness, although some portions traverse towns, roads and cross rivers.
The Appalachian Trail is famous for its many hikers, some of whom, called thru-hikers, attempt to hike it in its entirety in a single season. Many books, memoirs, web sites and fan organizations are dedicated to this pursuit.
Here are a few snaps of the view from the Clingman's Dome parking lot. The view is so expansive it is hard to take it in when there, let alone try to convey it digitally.
At the bottom of the .50 mile paved trail to the Dome sits the Information Center and Store.
There were lots of kid (both big and little) crawling all over the rocks and generally being a noisy nuisance.
Here we see the "Ghost Forest" - all that remains of a once magnificent virgin forest of Fraser Fir.
The ascent to the Observation deck is a steep one. I saw more than one corpulent person who looked like they were going to blow a gasket as they waddled up the path.
Ironically, the only reason any kind of view is possible is because all the Fraser Fir have been killed off.
The view from the top.
There was a steady, non-stop stream of people going in both directions.
Some of the snow which was left by Sandy.
Now that I had made the obligatory trip to the Dome it was time for my hike out to Andrews Bald.
Andrews Bald is a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains, located in the Southeastern United States. It has an elevation of 5,920 feet (1,800 m) above sea level, making it the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountain is one of two grassy balds maintained in the range by the park service. The other is Gregory Bald, in the western Smokies.
In the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States, balds are mountain summits or crests covered primarily by thick vegetation of native grasses or shrubs occurring in areas where heavy forest growth would be expected.
Grassy balds are relatively blunt summits covered by a dense sward of native grasses. Two types have been identified: those completely covered by grasses and those with a scattered overstory of mixed hardwoods with a grassy herbaceous layer. Grassy balds are normally found at the summit of hills, but can also be found on broad upper slopes.
The trail was easy going with a only a few patches of snow. In 2008 major trail work was done which upgraded the rocky, rutted, and muddy old trail.
When I arrived at the Bald there were several small groups of people scatted about. I found a spot for myself where I could have a snack and relax in the warm sun as well as take in the view. Before I knew it I had dozed off and an hour had passed by.
The thick grass had made a nice place upon which to recline.
As I left the Andrews Bald I passed this group who were just finishing up their picnic. They were the reason I had been roused from my slumber. And I could here their yelling and hollering to each other as I headed back down the path.
On the way back down the mountain I stopped at the Newfound Gap parking area which straddles the NC/TN state line. The Appalachian Trail also bisects the parking area.
This is the Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap. It was from here U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally dedicated the park on September 2, 1940. The Rockefeller Family provided $5,000,000 - half of the purchase price of the 440,000 acres of the then new National Park.
The Rockefeller Memorial was completed in September 1939 and included a plaque which reads:
For the permanent enjoyment of the people this park was given one half by the people and states of North Carolina and Tennessee and by the people of the United States of America and one half in memory of Laura Spellman Rockefeller by the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial founded by her husband John D. Rockefeller.
I am sure once upon a time this bronze spout provided icy cold spring water to those who stopped here at Newfound Gap.
Just beyond the Rockefeller Memorial the Appalachian Trail continues on it march north. It is here I would start tomorrows hike to Charlies Bunion.
The setting sun was making for some nice photos ops. This fellow has set up a view camera and was taking a reading with a hand held light meter.
One last shot as I set off back to Gatlinburg in search of some din-din.
A most excellent hike!