Saturday, January 27, 2007

Great Smoky Mtn Alum Bluff/Mt Leconte

Another great day! I took the Alum Bluff /Mt LeConte trail. This trail goes along Alum Creek, then crosses over and climbs steps through a tunnel in the rock. Then, it is on to Inspiration Point and Alum Bluff. Why it is called Alum Bluff, I’m not sure. It has the smell of sulpher. Turns out it is made of salt peter and was mined in the civil war days to make gunpowder. There was even a small fort set up to defend the salt peter resource from the yanks. From there it is on up to Mt LeConte. I stopped short of the summit so I could make it back down in time to watch the Ags beat Oklahoma on ESPN, but the part I hiked was great. There are some great views and a little suspense walking along a narrow trail with sheer drops, holding to cables in the wall. Even more suspense when there is a bit of ice on the trail.

Here are a few pictures from the trip.

Alum Creek

Foot Bridge over the Alum Creek with Cave in Background

Steps through tunnel in rock

Trail to Alum Bluff

Yours Truly at Inspiration Point

Alum Bluff from Trail below

View from Alum Bluff

Trail between Alum Bluff and Mt LeConte

Looks like this run is over. The forecast for tomorrow is for snow, high of 33, low of 11. Time for this southern boy to head south.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Great Smoky Mountains Laurel and Rainbow Falls

I have to say, I’m a bit surprised. Back in the 70’s I spent quite a bit of time in the Smoky Mountains, but I really hadn’t discovered hiking at the time. I remember seeing some nice mountain views, but that is about it. On this trip, focused on hiking, I’m enjoying things from close up. There are still the mountain views, of course, but I’m enjoying the fresh air, the relaxed walks, the woods, the wildlife. Nothing too dramatic, just beautiful scenery, interesting details and curiosity about what is around the next corner. And there are an endless list of trails I’d like to see.

Anyway, the weather has been great. I hiked through some snow flurries yesterday morning, but by the afternoon the sun was peeking out again. Today, a beautiful, clear day. The temperatures might appear on the cool side (lows in the 20’s, highs in the 40’s) but by the time I’m on the trail for 30 minutes I’m unzipping my jacket and feeling great.

Yesterday, I visited the Laurel Falls, a short, easy walk. I hiked to the falls and took these pictures of the falls and then hiked another mile or so along the trail up into an old growth forest. As I mentioned, there were a few snow flurries, which you can see accumulating along the trail. Although I’m partial to the sun, the snow is much preferable to rain.

Today, it was off to Rainbow falls. This falls gets its name from the rainbow that supposedly forms above the falls in the afternoon sun, but I didn’t see it, despite the full sun. I’m not sure whether it was too early in the afternoon, or whether the sun is too low in the south at this time of year. The falls is 80’ high and was pretty interesting framed by ice. The trail to the falls is about 2.8 miles each way, with about 1500’ elevation change. Along the way there were quaint little foot bridges, roaring creeks, ice sculptures and smaller waterfalls, as well as giant trees.

In between, a few minutes in the hot tub and indoor pool, a hot shower and a warm bed. Ah, what a life!!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Great Smoky Mountain National Park- Hello, Sunshine and Scenery

Enough cold rain!! I finally got fed up and just got in the car and headed east. Two days later I found myself at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and I’m glad I did. Today the sun was shining brightly and I enjoyed a couple of great hikes! Even though the hiking is great I was worried it might be a bit nippy at nights for backpacking, so I was pleased to find thousands of hotel rooms near the park going begging at rates from $15-30/night.

Since the weather was so nice I decided to head up to the higher elevations today. The road to Clingman’s Dome, a famous landmark here, was closed for the winter but I enjoyed the view from New Found Gap shown at the top of the page. Even the icy springs along the road made for some nice scenery.

While at New Found Gap I hiked a few miles on the Appalachian Trail toward Charlies Bunion. The AT is probably the best known trail in the United States, running about 2100 miles through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. My brief sampling from the AT reinforced my long held desire to spend time backpacking on the trail some day. One of the problems with the AT is that it is usually crowded in the peak months, but today I saw only a few people. I’ve included a picture of the view as well as ice on the trail that finally helped me decide to turn around. The Smoky Mountains have an abundance of water, which results in great waterfalls, as well as ice when the temperatures are below freezing.

From there I went back down the mountain to the Chimney Tops trail. This is a strenuous 4 mile roundtrip trail with a 1700’ climb. It is particularly difficult at the top, which requires you scale the rocks in a near rock-climbing mode. As indicated at the trailhead, the view is worth the effort. The top gives you spectacular 360 degree views of the Sugarlands valley. Along the way there are great views of several creeks and springs as well as vegetation ranging from pines, walnut and spruce to rhodedendrons and ferns.

All in all, a great day, although I’ll be sore tomorrow. The little hiking I’ve done in the last couple of months has been on flat trails. After having all-you-can-eat ribs at Corky’s it is time to settle down and watch the Rockets on ESPN and listen to the Ags play Tech over the internet. (Nice to see Dikembe's recognition in the State of the Union last night.)

I had a notion to stop at Corky’s when I went through Memphis, but I couldn’t get the old Cavalier to slow down long enough. So I was pleased to see a Corky’s here in Pigeon Forge.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Caddo Lake State Park

After several days of cold rain and sleet I gave up on backpacking into the Big Thicket and headed on to Caddo Lake State Park. I got a bit of a break the first evening and morning…skies were overcast, but no rain.

I spent the morning hiking before the rains started again, so I can show a few pictures. First, the “lake”… I didn’t realize that Caddo Lake State Park is not actually on Lake Caddo, and the canoe rental that would have allowed me to get there was closed. I don’t think they thought there was anyone crazy enough to visit the park this time of year. I was the only one camping there. There has been so much rain, large areas of the park were under water, and you can see the colors ranged from brown water to brown trees giving little contrast with gray skies. I even digitally brightened the pictures, if you can believe it.

Then, the trail; more brown. There were some interesting birds, but I don’t have enough zoom or definition to capture any worthwhile pictures of them. Finally, something that wasn’t brown or gray-the Christmas fern, so named because it is evergreen. I could have given you pines, but I figured you’ve all seen enough of them.

After another 24 hours of rain and reports of more icy weather on the way, I moved on. So now I’m snuggled into a hotel in Hope, Arkansas, birthplace of Bill Clinton. My plan is to catch a little basketball, a little football and services at the Hope Church of Christ while I wait out the weather and make further plans. I’m thinking of moving a bit faster to North Carolina because of the weather and the fact that most of the scenic parks seem to be hibernating.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Big Thicket and Lake Bryan

Well, it is past time for a report on my travels. I’ve been hoping for something dramatic to happen, but alas, my life has been pretty bland. Since last time I’ve traveled from College Station to Temple, then Rhome, back to Temple and now to Lumberton. I had a nice visit with my son, Jon, and Mom and Dad. For the last few days I’ve been visiting my brother Shawn and sister-in-law Susan in Lumberton. It has been great to see them and they’ve graciously allowed me to hang around for a couple of extra days while I wait on the predicted wintry weather to pass. The much delayed front finally passed today, so hopefully it will begin to warm up soon. Though the forecasters keep talking about sleet, snow and ice, the worst part so far as been rain. Unfortunately, it looks like the moisture will hang on for another day or two.

I did manage to do some hiking around Lake Bryan(near College Station) and take the top pictures of the sunset there, and the above of the lake before sunset.

Also, today I was able to manage short hikes in the Big Thicket National Preserve. The picture above is from the Sundew trail. Four of the five known carnivorous plants are located in the big thicket. One is the sundew, so naturally I thought I might see a sundew on this trail. Not so, although I did spot the pitcher plant shown(another carnivorous plant). Large areas of the Big Thicket are under water a significant amount of the time, which leaches the nutrients out of the soil. The carnivorous plants make up for the deficiency by trapping and digesting insects with enzymes similar to our stomach acid.

I also visited the Kirby nature trail. This trail, as with the Big Thicket in general, is known for it’s diversity of vegetation. Apparently, this is a result of the glaciers pushing down from the north, east and west during the last ice age. There is everything from cactus to cherry trees here, as well a bay, gum, cypress, holly, palmetto, magnolia and several varieties of pine and oak. Above are cypress knees, roots which protrude above the water. No one knows why they do this, but speculation includes gathering additional oxygen for submerged roots and acting as a balance to support the tree in soft soil. I’ve also included a fuzzy picture of a red cockaded woodpecker. If you’ve read my blog you’ll know I’ve become fixated on photographing one of the numerous red headed woodpeckers I’ve seen...they just seem to be something you would see in the Amazon. You'll have to open and and zoom in a few steps to see him, just to the left and a bit above the word I've inserted. The trail guide I have says that woodpeckers are the most plentiful birds in the preserve, perhaps more so since there are a great number of dead and dying trees in the area due to hurricane Rita.

In the ironic department, I’m told they regularly see redheaded woodpeckers in the trees in Shawn’s yard. Also, as I returned from about 5 miles of hiking today I spotted this painted bunting on the fence in their yard when I parked my car. This bird is featured prominently in the Big Thicket brochure I have, with beautiful red, green and purple plumage. I took this picture through the window of my car, but of course it flew away when I tried to get out of my car to take a better picture. I also saw this pileated woodpecker in a short walk around the property.

Anyway, I hope to shortly get in some backpacking in Big Thicket and move on to Caddo Lake, Mount Magazine State Park in the Petit Jean valley of Arkansas, the Natchez trace in Tennessee and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Washington-on-the-Brazos, birthplace of Texas

On my way to College Station I decided to visit Washington-on-the-Brazos state park. As hard as it is to believe, the town of Washington was a significant crossroads in those days, on the intersection of the La Bahia highway and the Brazos river. Goods were shipped both from and to all parts of the Globe on the Brazos River and there was a ferry across the river at Washington.

Above is Independence hall, where the nation of Texas was born. There was no glass in the windows and the temperature was in the 30’s, so cotton cloth was stretched across the windows to retain the heat. They convened on March 1, 1836 and drafted and approved the Declaration of Independence on March 2nd. By March 17th they had written the constitution and elected the government. On April 22nd the war was over and the nation was born. And some think things move fast today!!

Washington was the first capital of Texas, but amazingly, the railroad bypassed Washington and by 1860 it was essentially deserted and in disrepair. The above shows the area where the town was and the spot on the river where the ferry was located. I visited the cemetery, but near as I can tell there were no famous names there, so apparently the founding fathers didn’t end up here and most of the graves were relatively recent.

I arrived in College Station in time to watch both the men and women’s games, both wins. The men’s team handily beat Winthrop, projected to be a tournament team.

Then today I took an “urban hike” down memory lane. I walked down Texas Ave, through the housing at south gate, around the golf course and to the Bonfire Memorial. I recommend it to anyone; it is really inspiring and revealing about the Aggie Spirit.

Later I visited the old engineering building, north gate and Freebirds, a new tradition. Then it was on to Sul Ross (Soldier, Statesman, Knightly Gentleman), the student center, University Bookstore and through G. Rollie White coliseum and intramural areas. Next, it was past the home of the University, the Corps dorms and back through south gate again.

Speaking of Southgate, I spotted this house with a tree through the roof. Seems no matter where you go, there are interesting things to see.