Category Archives: Hiking

Part 2: It Doesn’t Look any Bigger than the Mauritania

If you haven’t, first read Part 1 of my trip report. Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I recommend it!

We left Elkmont Campground around 9:30/10 am and headed to Pigeon Forge. I hadn’t originally planned for us to go to any of the touristy areas around there, but at some point I noticed there was a Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge…that looked like the Titanic. You may not know this, but I was, at one time, and still somewhat am, completely obsessed with the movie Titanic. I saw it, I believe, 11 times in the theater. I’ve seen it countless times since. I read many books on the ship; I even went to the library and looked at microfilm to see the original reports from the sinking. So, I couldn’t pass up a trip to the museum! There’s evidently one in Branson too, which would technically be closer for us, but the internet told me the Pigeon Forge one was better, so my decision was made!

Before Louie got the camping shower, I’d thought we would need to seek out a place to shower, but luckily we didn’t need to do that! So we just headed straight for the museum. Our reservation was at 11 am, but we got there a little early and it wasn’t very busy at all.

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When you enter the museum, they give you a “boarding pass” and each one has the story of a passenger on the Titanic. At the end of the museum you learn his or her fate.

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I liked the one they gave Louie because he was a violinist!

The museum admission comes with an audio tour, which was quite helpful and informative. There is mostly no photography allowed in the museum, except in one area where they were showing off some of the actual costumes from the movie.

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This is the corset from the scene in the movie where Rose’s mother is telling her “This is not a game. Our situation is precarious. You know the money is gone.”

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And of course, the dress we first see Rose in! “It doesn’t look any bigger than the Mauritania…”

Although I think the museum is more of a “one and done” type of place, I thought it was well done and quite interesting. There were loads of actual artifacts from the ship and great information. I didn’t learn as much as Louie only because I already knew the information, ha! They even had an area (very cold) where you could feel what the iceberg and the cold water would have felt like. We couldn’t even stand to be in the room at that point, much less spend time in the water! There was another part with the deck at various tilted angles. And tons of stories of the people, both the survivors and those lost. I highly recommend taking the time to go if you are in the area. We probably spent about an hour there, so it wasn’t terribly long, but I felt it was worth it, at least for me.  Who am I kidding, I loved it. Total guilty pleasure, and I’m grateful to Louie for tagging along.

Afterwards, we decided to grab lunch at a nearby restaurant called the Local Goat. I got a really nice portabella mushroom and goat cheese sandwich while Louie had less luck with fish tacos. Then we headed to our next campground destination, Cataloochee!

Before you go to Cataloochee, you need to know there are no services there, no ice, no wood available, so be sure to stock up. We made sure we had plenty of both and all the groceries we needed to, and then we were ready. You go up a winding gravel road for several miles, but it was no problem for the Corolla (unless I had been driving and then I might have had a panic attack, but Louie thrives on this windy mountain driving. ) After about 2 hours we arrived at the campground. This place was even more beautiful than Elkmont, and more remote. I had reserved site 7, and again, I think it was one of the best if not the best site. It was fairly private, and had lots of room and backed up to the creek.

We started unpacking, and noticed this right behind our campsite.

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Was it what we thought? We headed up to chat with the camp host to see what he thought. He told us that yep, the past two nights a bear had been in the area, but the night before the rangers had trapped the fellow and relocated him about 20 miles away. Okay, good to know. Be on the lookout. Be ready to make some noise to scare the bears away!

Cataloochee campground had no shortage of trash cans. Only one bear box for those without cars, but every site had its own little bear proof trash can, which we thought was hilarious. We kept all our food stuffs in the trunk when we weren’t using them, though we noticed our neighbors weren’t quite as careful, which is frankly upsetting and annoying to me…we work really hard to keep a very clean campsite, and if everybody doesn’t, then the bears are coming.

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The tent from the backside. How beautiful is this setting??

After we got set up, we decided to go looking for the elk…we were told to turn left out of the campground and continue into the Valley and we’d see them, especially around dusk, so we set out before dinner.

The elk were reintroduced to the Park in 2001, after being gone from the area for over 150 years. It took a little work, but the herd is now doing well and part of them even moved away to another area of the park.

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We did the typical Park “pull over on the side of the road, roll down the windows and start snapping pictures…”

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Cataloochee Valley used to be full of people, so there are quite a few historic buildings left.

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Anyway, we spent some time just watching the elk and taking pictures, and after awhile we started heading back. We popped into a few of the old buildings, when there weren’t elk around.

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And then! A smallish black bear crossed the road right in front of our car. Louie stopped the car and we both kind of froze and panicked! Then we watched it in the woods next to the car and hoped it didn’t notice us. I took this excellent photo.

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I’m pretty sure that black blobby bit is the bear.

We were pretty close to the campground then, so we went back and told the camp host what we’d see. He was a little alarmed and said “Maybe they got the wrong bear!”. I think I was a little freaked out that evening! It started raining a bit after that so we waited for a break in the rain to make dinner, and then we relaxed a bit and went to bed.

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In the morning we got up fairly early to do a hike called the Big Fork Ridge Trail Loop, about 9.1 miles. It was still fairly raining (light, off and on) and the humidity was high. Once we got started on the hike, we never saw another person!

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The terrain varied over the course of the hike, from a wide gravel road, to narrow bits, mud, rocks, you name it! About 5 miles in the trail was completely blocked by a giant tree, and we had to crawl around it. Here’s what the trail looked like after we got around the tree!

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Going around was a little tricky, but we could see the trail way on the other side so we felt good about it.  We had forgotten our chain saws though Winking smile

There was a little side trail to see the “Big Poplars” which were actually Tulip Trees, evidently.

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That’s a big tree!

We ate our lunch at a campsite, since there were nice places to sit. We definitely needed to reapply bugspray! It was buggy and muggy.

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Another side trail went to a gravesite from the Civil War.

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Anyway, the hike took us about 5 1/2 hours. On our short drive back to the campground, yep, we saw more elk! We took camp showers after that, and then just did a variety of things around the campground, planned the next day, relaxed, made a fire, etc.

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This is the view from the back of our campsite. We would have set up our tent further back if we hadn’t been required to use the tent pad.

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You can see there was a lot of extra room!

The next morning we didn’t jump out of bed because we’d chosen a slightly shorter hike, called the Boogerman Loop. It was about 7.5 miles around, and the trailhead was within walking distance of the campground.

It started with a wooden bridge…

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We ate our lunch around this giant tree. It was a bit warmer than the day before, and less raining, so we saw a few more people on this hike.

There was a lot of evidence of people having lived here before: old rock walls, grave stones, even old farm equipment. Not all of my pictures turned out well– sometimes I don’t spend enough time standing still.

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During the hike there had been a variety of creek crossings, mostly with those little wooden bridges. It seemed like each crossing was getting more difficult…for instance, a bridge seemed quite broken and we walked very carefully, another crossing that didn’t have a bridge, but probably needed one…at one point Louie joked that the trail was presenting us with increasingly difficult obstacles, like a game. And then suddenly we came to a place where there was no bridge, just a creek…and it seemed there once was a bridge and now it was gone. There was no way around it: we had two choices, turn around (4-5 miles back) or forge the creek. It looked scary, but we had two hiking sticks, good shoes, and I figured, the horses do it. We plotted our course, took some deep breaths, and waded through the water.

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This was, I believe, one of the earlier challenges, but you can see there’s plenty of water and not an obvious trail.

And here’s me going across!

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And Louie…

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After the first crossing, the second didn’t seem so bad…that’s always the way of it! Though I wasn’t super happy to see the second bridge out.

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It wasn’t so bad though, and the worst was really all the mud on the trails afterwards!

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But I was pretty relieved to see this guy later…

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When we finally finished the hike, we noticed there had been this warning at the beginning, which I’d seen but hadn’t really read.

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Anyway, we walked back to the campground, dipping our feet in the creek along the way to wash off the mud…and then we hung things up to dry and took showers.

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This is a little swimming area at the campground. People swam, though the water would have been too cold for me! Not as a kid though, I would have made it work like kids do.

While we were getting cleaned up a woman drove by and told us about a ranger talk in a nearby house, so we decided to go check it out before dinner. We got there late but were only 2 of the 5 watching. As we listened, it started POURING rain…and just so you know, we weren’t so smart and left a bunch of stuff hanging on the clothesline back at our camp. We were dry under a porch (well, fairly, as it leaked) so we listened to the ranger talk about the Elk and various other things and it was very interesting. Then, as the rain let up a bit, we watched some male “bachelor” elk head our way.

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This guy was right by our car. The ranger told us about another ranger who had had his car damaged by an elk, got it all scratched up. We were lucky this time.

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The caution tape was actually for the front of the house, the Palmer House, as the porch had been repainted that day. I like it in the picture though.

After that, we headed back down to the valley area of the other night, and watched the elk there again. And…get this. In almost the same place, ANOTHER black bear crossed in front of us. We didn’t get pictures, because it was just too fast, but WOW. Two bears crossing the road in front of us? CRAZY.

We got back to the campsite and of course most everything was soaked. We decided to make the best of it and try to make a campfire anyway, and Louie managed! I also managed to cook dinner and then we hung out a bit. At one point…we were sitting at the campfire and then heard a loud crash from the bushes/trees behind us. We both jumped up and ran towards the car…I was certain a bear was going to be heading out the bushes towards us…I had my light pointed at it and was ready to start yelling, and nothing happened. Louie said he’d thought a bear fell out of a tree, because he’d heard a branch snap and then a lot of rustling. I don’t even know what really happened, because we never saw anything. Maybe just a branch fell and then made a lot of noise—the bushes and trees were thick and maybe that was the rustling. Or the bear ran away and was scared. In any case, we worked up the nerve to sit back down after awhile.

The next morning we had to pack up even though pretty much everything was wet. Our tent stayed FAIRLY dry but even that had some dampness from the floor. Our hiking shoes were soaked, our towels were soaked, everything was at least damp, but the good news was: we were heading to Asheville to stay INSIDE and could do laundry and take a real shower when we got there. So we packed up and headed out, stopping to get a few pictures at a viewpoint.

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A few more thoughts on Cataloochee: We would come back again for sure. Site 7 was awesome! And there were more hikes to do. An overnight hike would also be great, though perhaps terrifying. All the backcountry campsites had wires and pulleys to hang your food.

Also, in a different vehicle, we might have driven in a different way. We took the “short” way in and only had to drive on about 3 miles of gravel roads, but there’s a more scenic way which means about 10 miles of gravel roads (decently well maintained), which in a different vehicle could be awesome. I guess I wish we’d had another night or two, though it was nice to get out of the rain.

So next stop: Asheville!

Part 1: Waiting for the bears to attack

As long time readers and friends and family might know, the past few summers Louie and I have gone on some very extensive and long camping road trips…full of adventure, of course, but sometimes very tiring. (Check out the “Travel” tab for those posts!) When brainstorming our plans for this summer we thought, well, let’s keep it easier and go back to the Smoky Mountains and spent a lot of time in one place. After some research, I booked 3 nights in 4 different places, 3 of them camping, one staying in an AirBNB in Asheville. 

Our first stop would be Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, not too far from Gatlinburg. And, my friend April, who had moved to Atlanta a few months before, would be joining us for two nights!

I planned the trip to leave the morning after the last performance of Carousel with Union Avenue Opera. This meant the two days before we spent getting ready: packing, dealing with all the “going away” stuff. Camping trips always require more assembly and packing than a non-camping trip. We had a few new “toys” this trip, the highlight of which was a camping shower tent and portable shower. Louie had found them on Amazon, and since each portion of our trip would be 3 days at a campground without a shower, he thought it would be amazing to be able to rinse off better. We also switched up a few things with how we packed the car, and we had recently purchased a new large cooler.

In any case, I believe we hit the road by 8:30 am on Sunday morning. We had to make a few stops, many of which were annoying and fruitless, but we were happy to be on vacation. Around lunch we stopped and got a quick lunch at a McDonald’s (guilty vacation pleasure) and then kept driving. April was going to be meeting us at the campground that night and we wanted to get in before dark in order to get set up before the bears come out.

(Just kidding) (though there are lots of bears in the Smokies, but we were mentally prepared to deal with bear safety.)

We lost an hour as well (time change) but got to the campground around 6:45 pm, I believe. April was already there and waiting! We found our beautiful campsite and started setting up. The campground was very wooded and lush, and our site was right next to a creek and the sounds were lovely and made everything seem more private.

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I thought they were closer when I took the picture.

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We brought our extra orange tent for April to use.

A few notes about camping in National Parks: They seem to have a lot more rules and regulations than other campgrounds. Not even counting all the bear safety regulations, there are rules like, you must pitch all your tents on the tent pad. On the one hand, this is nice because you know you’ll have a relatively flat place to pitch the tent and you don’t have to think too much. On the other hand, your tent is very close to your friend’s tent! We didn’t mind much for two nights though.

Bear safety rules: never leave any food products out when you aren’t actively using them. This means dishes, stoves, soap, and of course, coolers and food. They told us to put these things in the car, but we naturally put them in the trunk now (we were told that no bears in the Smokies had broken into a car by one camp host, but I’m not sure that’s true). It can be annoying—you finish dinner and just want to relax a bit, but it’s more important to clean up first. And they only have cold water to wash your dishes in, and you can’t wash your dishes at your campsite, you must wash them at the sink near the bathrooms. You also shouldn’t leave any food products or anything with a scent in your tent: for instance, no toiletries. Some places even say no water bottles in the tent and others say it doesn’t matter. It seems like there isn’t as much consistency as we’d like: some places have so many bear proof trash cans you are tripping over them, others make you walk a long way. Some places have bear proof boxes at the campground to store food, others only have one for people arriving without cars. Some places confiscate coolers that are left out, others seem to be fine with people leaving out greasy cookwear all day long!

So, camping isn’t easy, but it can be a lot of fun. Sometimes the work required to camp and cook outside is annoying, but mostly it’s just how we do it, and you just do the clean up and then finally get to relax by the fire for a bit.

I know I’m going on and on, but I want you to understand what all this is like! And to tell you why we do all this: not because the bears will hurt us, but because we will hurt the bears. If you feed bears, if you teach bears that people provide food, then they end up hanging out near people, and then they get hurt, either hit by cars, hurt by eating cans and things they shouldn’t, or killed because they start to think people are the source of food. It’s best if we leave them alone and don’t teach them otherwise.

So, when we pulled into the campground (before 7 pm) there was a note on the ranger station saying that those of us with reservations needed to check in the next morning from 8 to 9. Which I thought was odd, because it wasn’t very late yet—usually people are working later than that. The little general store was still open selling firewood, but we were too late to check in? We had a reservation in any case, so I wasn’t too concerned.

After setting up our tents, we made dinner over the campstove and made a campfire too. We always cook dinner on the stove and just have a fire to relax in front of. Louie loves the challenge of building a fire with as little wood as necessary.

It was great to see April and the three of us stayed up late talking and laughing and catching up!

The next morning we got up and tried to check in at the time we were told. The ranger station was STILL closed, so we decided to try again later. We were going to do a bit of sightseeing and some hiking. I’d found a loop road called the “Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail” (say that three times fast, or even once fast) and wanted to drive it and maybe do a short hike or two from the road. We finally were able to check in, and the ranger acted like we were delinquent for being so late to do so…okay…but then we headed towards Gatlinburg.

We stopped by the Sugarlands Vistor Center first and looked around a bit. I got a few brochures including the one for the Motor Nature Trail, which ended up being one of the best purchases ever. They also had an extensive collection of stuffed animals (taxidermy) which was pretty interesting to see, though I prefer my animals alive! I was surprised by how small the bobcat was (not too far off from a normal housecat) and it was interesting to see all the kinds of foxes and things. I didn’t take any pictures though—sometimes it takes a little time to get into vacation mode and picture taking mode, and then later I regret that I didn’t take more pictures! I don’t really purchase many souvenirs as I figure my photos are enough.

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You can read upside down, right? So sometimes the road seems to be called different things—I’d seen Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, but the brochure says Auto Tour, and then honestly, I forget what the signs said when we tried to find the road, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been. We had to go out of the park and through Gatlinburg (whoa, that’s a tourist area!) and then ended up missing the first turn since it wasn’t marked the way anybody expected. (It turns out we needed to be looking for Cherokee Orchard Road…) In any case, we did find it eventually and then headed on. And I started reading from the brochure, and realized this wasn’t your typical brochure…

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Reads: “In the moments ahead, the forest will close in around you, spreading over the road and creating a mood of isolation—a serene detachment from the hurried pace of the highways. We invite you to stop often, get out, and smell the woods, feel the soft mosses and springy humus. Lean against the bark of a tree or sit on a rock along the way. Listen to the songs of birds and the humming of insects. “

That’s how you get the mood for vacation. I thought it would be an informative brochure telling me about what I was seeing and instead the whole thing covered how I should feel and the mood around our visit. It was amazing. We didn’t know what “humus” meant, but we tried to guess and kept talking about it for days.

In addition to the natural beauty of the Smokies, the other main feature of the park is the old houses of those that lived there before. When the park was founded, some people were allowed to stay on their property for their lifetimes, but some left earlier, and now some of the houses are being maintained and others not. I’m not sure where the choices are being made, but I’m sure there’s some reason for it.

We first pulled off and explored a little area at Ogle Place, right before the trail officially started. This was a sleeper hit—we didn’t realize there was a very lovely trail near a creek, and we were happy to have found it!

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Louie on a wooden bridge. These bridges would become a familiar and welcome sight! They are really a mainstay of the park.

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April and I on the same bridge.

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I love how lush and green everything is. Granted, it was very humid and damp all the time, but still…the beauty can’t be denied.

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It seems I underestimate how small people will be in my photographs.

After that walk (about 1 mile) we continued on the Trail, stopping along the way at various sites.

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This seems to be park of the burned area from the fires last fall. We didn’t explore it too far, though in retrospect (always these things are in retrospect, right?) I wish we had!

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The Haze—another stop on the trail as indicated on the guide. I highly recommend purchasing the guide pictured above. It’s one dollar the visitor’s center or at various stops along the way.

We got to Grotto Falls and wanted to hike to it, but the parking lot was jammed with cars! We ended up parking quite a ways down the road and had to walk back up to the trailhead (Trillium Gap Trail). We had some hummus (not to be confused with humus) and pita chips first for a snack, and then headed up the hill.

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The path was fairly crowded, but not too bad—we knew there would be crowds as there are at all Nat’l Parks but we didn’t find the Smokies to be overly crowded except at a few places here and there. Remember, no matter how many people are there at the Visitor’s Center, far less will be hiking more than 1/4 to 1/2 mile!

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We had our pictures taken by the Falls, but there aren’t any falls in these pictures, so that confuses me. It was a huge line for photos, and it felt more like Disneyworld or a Cruise than a hike. We decided to hike further for a bit, and it was quite difficult to fight through. After we passed the falls it really thinned out.

I should have brought my hiking sticks on this hike. I don’t know why I didn’t—I think with them I could have gone further. I also (I’m just going to admit this!) wasn’t as in as good of shape as in previous summers. I got so busy during the year and let things go, and then I started working out again but it was too late. I’m going to work harder this year to get back into better shape and be able to (hopefully!) enjoy hikes more! In any case, it was wonderful company and nice views even though going uphill was a real challenge. We probably went about 7 miles round trip! It did rain off and on which was annoying, but not a huge problem as we all had rain jackets.

After that, we continued along the trail, stopping to see various houses and landmarks. I was struck by how different various houses were built from one another: I suppose if I had to build a house it might not be very good, but my dad built an amazing dome house, so I’m glad I’m not in charge today. All the house we saw were better than what I would do, but some were better than others.

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After the tour, we went back to the campground and Louie and I decided to try out the camping shower!

Here’s what it looked like:

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It set up quickly, like one of those sun screens you can put on your front windshield! We had a bucket to put the water in, and then added some boiling water to heat it up a bit. The showerhead itself is battery operated and takes water from the bucket up a tube and out the shower head, and it worked surprisingly well. We had to be careful not to spill the water on the ground because of camp regulations, but we stood in a plastic catch basin and did pretty well. It was great to be clean, though I had a hard time washing my hair!

We made dinner and then roasted marshmallows for s’mores!

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Oh, and at one point, we noticed across the creek our neighbors suddenly had a tarp on fire! It was over their firepit, and I guess there was a surge! It was scary at first, but they acted fast and it seemed they quickly got the fire out and nobody was hurt, so we settled back down with a few beers in front of our fire. (Louie is a master of getting a somewhat wet fire going).

After we were relaxing a bit, the storm hit. It started pouring rain around 9:30/10 pm and then never really let up. It had been raining off and on all day, but nothing too bad, and then suddenly it just wouldn’t stop. We tried to hang on in the big tent, but then we realized the floor was wet and parts of the sleeping bag, and UGH, it was just wet. We gave up and all just went to sleep.

The rain continued through the night, with some big storms rolling through. THIS is when camping is pretty annoying and terrible, when the weather isn’t as good. When it’s pleasant and lovely outside, camping is amazing, but inclement weather is just that much harder. But we persevere…even though both Louie and I thought, if it keeps up raining we might give up.

We decided to take a short hike from near the campground called the Cucumber Gap Loop. We started on the Little River Trail to the Cucumber Gap Trail to Jake’s Trail, which would be about 5 miles all together.

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The first part of the trail was really pretty, along a river. There were ruins of old buildings—evidently this area used to be a private club where wealthy people from Knoxville would come out for the summer.

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Build your hearth out of stone and it will last a long time. Wood, not as much. Well, never build your hearth out of wood, actually. Bad idea.

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So many waterfalls in the Smokies!

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April touching what we hoped was springy humus.

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April’s first creek crossing over rocks. She couldn’t believe the trail made us cross on roads. Spoiler Alert: things got worse/harder further in the trip, but this was a fun crossing. I wonder if it was a little harder due to the heavy rains.

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This tree had lifted up the ground! But it just kept trying.

At the end up the hike we passed by more old buildings. And then there was a little area with some buildings that the park service was restoring which used to be part of the Elkmont Club. I find the history equally fascinating to the nature.

April needed to leave that afternoon, so after the hike we went back to the campground to eat lunch. It was sunny so Louie and I hung up all our wet things—if it hadn’t been a sunny afternoon I don’t know that we could have stayed there again, but we managed to get everything dried out over the afternoon! April left around 3, and then Louie and I decided to be a little lazy and just relax at the campground all afternoon. We took a little walk around the campground too, and decided I’d picked one of the best sites for sure! (B-11).

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It was fairly private, close enough to the bathrooms, by the river, and just very pretty.  I could have camped there a few nights longer, and I would return for sure. I read a book and Louie occupied himself, and we felt the stresses of our everyday lives slip away. Or something. At least, we were enjoying ourselves and happy to be out in nature.

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We didn’t stay up too late, because we were tired AND because the next day we had plans: to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge and then to our next stop, Cataloochee Campground.

We woke up and packed up, and headed out. It would be about 30-45 minutes drive to Pigeon Forge, so we waved goodbye to Elkmont Campground, and said “see you soon” to the Park.

To be continued…

What The Heck is a Hoodoo

Road Trip 2016 continued!

Previous posts:

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

Moving Along

No Such Thing as a Dead Horse

Feeling at home in Arches National Park

Entering the Fiery Furnace

A Night Off the Ground

The Only Good Forest is a Petrified Forest

It wasn’t too far to Bryce Canyon from Escalante State Park, and as usual, it was a beautiful drive. Seriously, there’s just no way to understand how gorgeous and amazing the land out there was if you haven’t been. Go!

So as we got closer to Bryce Canyon, I realized since we were arriving around 10 am, we should park outside the park and take the shuttle in. This was easy enough. We made lunch, packed our backpacks, filled our water, and took the shuttle. We hadn’t decided what to do yet (I tell you, it is hard to preplan for an entire 3 week trip, and I just ran out) but we quickly skimmed the newsletter (called “The Hoodoo”, which, if you aren’t sure what that is, I’ll show you in a minute) and saw a hike described as “one ultimate hike!” and knew it was the one. It was listed under strenuous and was called “The Figure 8 Combination. You combine the Queens Garden, Peekaboo Loop and Navajo Loop for a 6.4 mile hike.

Remember, it’s a canyon. Coming out is always harder! But this wasn’t like the Grand Canyon, and after hiking to the Colorado River and back, everything else seems like child’s play.

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Bryce. It’s really unbelievable. All those bits poking up are the hoodoos, and it’s what is left as the parts around them have been eroded away. (I think.) We took the shuttle to Sunrise Point and then hiked through the Queen’s Garden. This part of the trail was super crowded, but for good reason. It was absolutely beautiful and amazing, and while I know I’ve said that before I’m sitting here typing, nearly a year later, and I can remember exactly how I felt, looking around. Terrified, yes, because it was a pretty steep downhill with lots of drop offs, but amazed at the crazy pointy bits and the natural wonders that were simply unlike anything else we’d seen, and yet, here they were. What an amazing world we live in!

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Hoodoos up close!

The trail, as usual, thinned out a bit the further we got, though it was always pretty well traveled. There were lots of ups and downs, and it was certainly no picnic of a hike, but around each corner there were more breathtaking wonders. I can’t recommend this hike enough.IMG_6014

There were quite a few archways! Being a St Louisian now, I do love arches.

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The trees just add another element. You don’t see so many trees in other parts of Utah. Bryce is a higher elevation-8000 to 9000 feet, so the flora and fawna are different than other parts of Utah that we had seen. It was also cooler, which was a relief.

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At one point we sat and had a nice lunch break. There were also a few points where there were vault toilets to use, which is always a little funny—you are miles into a hike, and then you wait in line for a potentially really stinky bathroom Smile

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You can see there are some switchbacks in the hike.

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The hike took us into the early afternoon. Getting out of the canyon was a little terrifying for me, as it was a lot of not looking down and just forging ahead, and the switchbacks getting out were really crowded! But we made it without too much trouble, somehow, and then got on a shuttle bus to go back to the car.

We found an ice cream shop near the car and had a treat before we headed out to our campsite. I couldn’t reserve us a site at Bryce so I got one at Kodachrome State Park, which was about 30 minutes away.  As busy as Bryce was, there was hardly anyone at Kodachrome, and we found our tent-only loop easily enough. The only thing was there were a lot of gravel roads, and there was NOBODY else there, which was a little scary at first! But we settled in, we found the showers at a nearby electric loop, realized there WERE other people there, and then a few more parties joined our campground. All the time we could hear cows mooing, particularly the next morning, which was kind of funny.

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Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature

I wish we could have relaxed more but the next morning we were up and out of there, and went back to Bryce. It would have been great to explore Kodachrome further, but our crazy schedule didn’t allow it. We hadn’t seen all of the park, so we got there early to drive to the end of it and come back. Another way to avoid crowds is to get up early, and we did that.

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We took a nice little hike called the Bristlecone Loop and saw more of the hoodoos and the canyon, and then stopped at a few more viewpoints and the visitors center, but it was getting crowded by that point, and we were eager to get to Zion, so we headed out.

On our way to Zion, we got hungry and didn’t feel like eating out of the car, so when we saw a German Bakery/Restaurant called Forscher Bakery, it seemed just the ticket. Oh, and for some reason we ordered a pizza. It was odd, but excellent. To be continued!

Nights Camping: 10

Miles Hiked (estimate): 64

Hawn State Park and the Whispering Pines Trail

Since summers can get so busy for me (weddings and other fun work events) I decided to set aside a couple of times in order to have normal fun summer activities. This past weekend I planned a short getaway to Hawn State Park near St. Genevieve, Missouri.

We left on Friday, planning to camp two nights and hike in between and on Sunday morning. We’d wanted to bring Mackenzie (my dog) but it was pretty hot and she just doesn’t do well in the heat (too furry) so we left her at a friend’s house. Louie and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to streamline our camping experience, and this time we’d stored everything, all the odds and ends at least, in a large plastic bin that fit in his trunk, so it was a matter of taking stuff out of the garage, removing stuff from the bin we definitely wouldn’t need, and trusting the rest was there. (It was! This method worked pretty well.) I also planned out meals for Friday night, Saturday day, and Sunday morning, along with some drinks. It was easy planning for a short trip.

Hawn is about 1 1/2 hours away and we got there by 5 pm. We picked up a bundle of firewood just outside of the park but they sold it there, along with ice, so we wouldn’t have had to. I’d reserved site 29, since I wasn’t sure how popular it would be for Father’s Day weekend. It was pretty full but not completely booked when we arrived, but you know me, I’m a planner.

One thing that struck me was just how GREEN it was there. It was a very nice campground, well maintained, and a beautiful state park.

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We set up the tent and then wandered around a little bit, checking out where the trailhead for the hike the next day was. Then we cooked a nice dinner (chili!), sat around the fire, and relaxed. It wasn’t too hot when you weren’t doing anything much, and after the sun went down it was very pleasant. There wasn’t a huge amount of privacy and some of the neighbors were a little annoying, but that’s campground camping for you. Our site was pretty, except the tent backed up to a large patch of poison ivy! Good to avoid.

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There were large wooden poles to hang up your trash on, but the raccoons can scale them. Or at least the raccoon that visited us could. He (or she) came out just after dark, and I didn’t realize until the next day that he’d stolen a plastic bowl and dropped it in the bushes. The following night after dinner he got into our trash and ate an apple core. In any case, he seemed nice, but we didn’t want to feed him!

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Posing with the tent.

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Louie hard at work chopping firewood into smaller pieces.

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My view from my chair.

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Anyway, we had a nice relaxing night, sitting around the fire chatting. We agreed it was good to get out of the world for a bit, to be disconnected and just relax. It’s refreshing when you know you are out of touch (NO service to speak of, data wise-no news, no worries!).

It rained around 6:00 am Saturday, so we waited to get up until 8 am or so. We’d planned to do earlier just to get hiking before the heat of the day, but oh well. Our neighbors were pretty loud (shockingly so for 7 am) but oh well. The good news is the loud ones left that day Smile

We wanted to hike the Whispering Pines Trail, which is 10 miles if you do the north and south loops. The author of my book, 60 hikes within 60 miles recommended starting with the Pickle Creek Trail, and I’m glad we did!

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I believe this was the Pickle Creek.

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10 miles! I forget how far that is when you are walking.

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Why yes, those are purple hiking shorts. Or eggplant, or something.

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There was almost a view. Maybe in the winter.

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So green!

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Cool water area.

IMG_7641The entire hike was buggy, and it was really hot and humid after an hour or so, and we were pretty worried about ticks (we applied liberal amounts of Deep Woods Off), but the Pickle Creek Trail was the best part! It was a nice day, a challenging hike. We packed our usual pb sandwiches for lunch, had trail mix, lots of water, and a few breaks, and by the end I was suffering, but we made it, and lived to tell the tale.

If I did this again, I don’t think I’d do both loops, and I don’t know that I’d want to hike the south loop in the summer, ever again. But in a different season it might be really nice—it was VERY overgrown and often felt like hiking in the jungle (not that I have, but I’d imagine it’s similar, wading through elbow high weeds?)

Afterwards I was thankful the campground had showers and I only found one tiny tick which had not attached itself.  The campground had very nice facilities overall—nice bathrooms (for a campground, to be clear), and there were also vault toilets, I imagine for during the winter.

We relaxed by the fire again for hours after the hike (we hiked from about 9:30 to 3:30) and then made dinner and went to bed eventually.

We were awoken by thunder around 2:30 am. A huge storm swept through, probably at least 1 hour long, of severe weather. Louie and I sat there together in the tent, worrying. There was torrential rain, loud lightning and thunder, and no way to check the radar to see what was happening. Finally it passed and we were able to get back to sleep. The tent stays pretty dry but has some vents that a little wetness gets in through on the sides near the bottom. I was worried about tornados at the time and Louie said later he was worried about a tree or branch falling on us. I told myself that I just didn’t hear of too many people dying in Missouri State Parks in storms…another lighter storm followed that one but nothing too crazy.

Anyway, when morning finally came, we decided to pack up and leave in case there were more storms coming. We didn’t think any more hiking would be very pleasant since the ground was muddy and wet, so we just headed home. It was a nice weekend getaway!

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My view from the tent: I was packed up sleeping bags and pads while Louie made coffee and oatmeal.

Owensville wedding

Over the weekend Louie and I went to a friend’s wedding in Owensville, Missouri. Neither of us had ever been to the area before, and though it was only about 1 1/2 hours drive away, we decided to make a weekend of it and stay for two nights.

We drove down Friday early evening and checked into the Owensville Motor Inn. We were both hungry and tired, so I checked Trip Advisor for where to eat…there was a nearby Mexican Restaurant that was the Number 3 recommendation in the area. For reference, Number 1 was the White Mule Winery where the wedding was going to be held, Number 2 was something called a Meat Market that wasn’t open late anyway, and Number 4 was McDonald’s.

Number 2 it was! Though we’d had Taco Thursday the night before after my quartet concert (which was awesome, btw, great crowd, had so much fun playing, I love those women and quartet is the highlight of my week!) it had been at Mission which is a “classier” and more “trendy” Mexican. Dos Primos in Owensville was a little more “traditional”. It didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed some beergaritas, fish tacos, and had a nice relaxing evening.

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(picture from the concert…not sure what I was doing…)

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That’s a beergarita.

Anyway, Saturday morning we got up and hit up the McDonald’s for breakfast and then headed to the Canaan Conservation Area for some light hiking. The weather was beautiful, if not a little warmer than we’d want, and we had a few hours to wander around.

Wander we did indeed, as the map wasn’t as easy to follow as we thought, and after an hour or so we ended up in a completely different place than we thought we were! Luckily we talked to a man in a truck and learned that we were totally wrong. We had time though, so we didn’t beg him for a  ride back to the car, ha! On our hike back through the area we thought we’d already covered but actually hadn’t, we were still lost more than we liked (I decided the map wasn’t very good, refusing to take credit for being THAT terrible at navigation) but we came across two very old cemeteries, which was pretty neat. They were both old German cemeteries and many of the deaths were around 1880. I’d think that would be on the map too, but I guess not. We didn’t dawdle too much since we wanted to make sure to get back to clean up for the wedding! There might have been a point where we weren’t sure if we were completely lost or headed in the right direction, but we eventually found our way and found where we’d left the car!

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It must have been turtle season.

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You can kind of see the cemetery here. I guess there probably used to be churches nearby since each one was labeled with a church name.

Then we got McDonald’s again..(snack and coffee, which this time was pretty terrible) and cleaned up, then wedding time. The friends getting married were some people I’d only met once who Louie used to work with. They are really nice people though, and we were thrilled for them!

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Not the best picture, but you get the idea of the reception area. I didn’t take too many pictures, but it was fun. The ceremony was outside and the weather was still quite nice. The cocktail hour and dinner were right nearby and there was plenty of local wine (people knock Missouri wines but I enjoy the Norton varietal) and various (less local) beers. They also had a bowl of buckeyes…(peanut butter with chocolate)

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And popcorn, and then dinner was beef, chicken, broccoli, green beans, potatoes, salad, and rolls. I had some meat since it was a special occasion (I have weird rules in my head about these things, don’t ask me to explain). The beef was good, I don’t care if I ever eat chicken again in my life! Dessert was of course cake, and then there was dancing.

(Am I really that much taller than everybody else? Were those women super short? These are important questions.)

I was exhausted by the end, and then unfortunately I had to get up early-ish the next morning to drive home and then play two Winter Opera rehearsals…so I didn’t make it a late night. But it was a nice weekend away!

Even though we were gone only about 40 hours it was good to have a change of scenery. I do love traveling and get antsy when things get too routine and close to home. Luckily the next few months have lots of opportunities for adventure…I suppose that’s why I enjoy and thrive on the freelance life while others want a more regular career. I like the diversity and while I love planning and organization, I love the opportunity for change and not knowing what is going to happen next. Of course, I also over plan and then get stressed when things don’t go according to plan, or more precisely, I sometimes stop myself BEFORE I plan too much, trying to be more spontaneous, and then often regret not planning as much as I should have. Basically I want really organized adventure where I’m completely on schedule. Smile

Feeling at home in Arches National Park

Next up: Arches National Park!

Previous posts:

And so it begins…to Aspen

Bear Necessities

Leaving Aspen…Good Riddance

Moving Along

No Such Thing as a Dead Horse

Day 9 of our trip, according to the itinerary. We finished up looking at Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park and hit the road back towards Moab. It’s about 30 minutes to Moab, which is right near Arches National Park. We decided to make a quick coffee/gelato stop in Moab first before heading back into the wilderness. We also wanted to check email and things like that. In this day and age, it’s hard to go 3 weeks without responding to people, so at least every couple of days we needed to check in! And honestly, after a few straight days of only talking to each other, it’s nice to look at other stuff Smile We had an “incident” later where we’d asked a restaurant if they had wi-fi and the woman said, somewhat self-righteously, “no, we don’t, you’ll just have to talk to each other.” Haha, right? Except get over yourself, we’d been doing nothing but talking to each other for 3 days, and you work in a deserted tourist area where maybe people need to check in for work or just to let their friends and family know they are still alive. But I digress.

We finished up our gelato at a delightful shop that DID have wi-fi and then drove up to Arches. We needed to stop by the visitor’s center to pick up tickets for a ranger led tour we were doing the following day, and whoa, the center was packed! It was a definite change from Canyonlands and Colorado National Monument. We knew Arches was more popular (I guess the beauty is more obvious and you can see more within 10 feet of your car?) but it was still a bit of culture shock.

We had a reservation at Devil’s Garden campground, which was at the very back of the park, about a 20 mile drive, so our plan was to slowly head there while stopping and seeing what interested us. We had the whole day in the park the following day so we knew we’d get to do most of things we wanted.

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Since blogging about this trip has, more than ever, become entirely ridiculous and overwhelming YET I know that I will want this all down in writing to look back at in the future…I’m going to do a lot of photo sharing!

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Many of the rock formations are named. This was called the Three Gossips.

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We took a short walk to get closer to Balanced Rock. The mountains in the background are spectacular. Another thing that really struck us both was how different Arches looked than Canyonlands and Dead Horse even though they are relatively close to each other. What a crazy planet we live on!

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The advent of digital cameras makes this sort of ridiculousness easier. Louie, holding up Balanced Rock.IMG_5739

Seriously, what is this madness??

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Various arches. After checking into the campground we set up the tent and then went on a hike that left from the end of the campground. Oh, we’d hoped to buy firewood to have a fire since we hadn’t been able to for a few days, but they were out! The camp hosts were really great though and told us we could stop by their site and have a few pieces, so we did that. We also found out the campground had had lots of flash flooding the night before, just like at Dead Horse and we were warned to be aware of where we set up our tent. Apparently this was “monsoon season” and flash floods were somewhat common, though the night before had been much more than usual, and some campsites were washed away. We made sure to stake our tent carefully.

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Every arch had a name, but I am bad with names. I think this was Broken Arch though. We also might have seen Tapestry Arch. The hike was a little hard to figure out at first, because it was lots of cairn following, but we managed! We almost got lost at more than one point, but did I mention that it was a lovely cool day in the desert so we probably wouldn’t have died. Just kidding, we only weren’t sure which turn to take and were never too far off from being correct.IMG_5756

This is the view of our campground. Devil’s Garden Campground is one of the most beautiful National Park Campgrounds that I’ve ever seen. Our site (Site 018) was gorgeous too, even though we had trouble finding a flat spot to set up the tent.

Anyway, we finished the hike and then went to relax at our campsite and make dinner.

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We had a lovely fire and relaxed. At one point a small fox (we found out it was a kit fox) came through our campsite, just like one had at Dead Horse! This time we were sort of ready, and Louie took a short video. It was dark though, and you can’t see much. We made a lot of jokes about how the fox didn’t say anything.

We decided to try to wake up to watch the sunrise. We had an amazing view from the tent, and figured this was the time!

Even though I hadn’t slept great because the tent was more slanted than we’d realized and I kept sliding off the pad (oops) I was happy to be awake to get this picture! We also saw several deer who walked non-chalantly through the campsite. It was a beautiful site, but unfortunately we had to move to a different one for the next night (same campground) so after watching the sunrise and breakfast, it was time to pack up. As usual…

Next up: Fiery Furnace, Delicate Arch and more storms!

Nights camping: 7

Miles hiked (estimate): 37