So yes, mixed feelings about Great Smoky Mountains NP, likely colored by high expectations brought on by the discovery of its extreme popularity. We had a thoroughly pleasant visit. And I bet it would be stunning in the Fall. The kids seemed to agree. It struck me as an excellent, and quite easy, long-weekend getaway for the millions and millions of folks in the South and on the Eastern Seaboard, but not the kind of place you would necessarily travel across the country to visit.
In fact, I had never even contemplated why these gentle gentile? Instead, the name comes from ubiquitous blue vapor that continuously escapes the thick layer of lush vegetation on these mountains. I have traveled far and wide through North Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, and nowhere have I been so intrigued by a written language. Entirely applicable to our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains, Keeper spent a week doing readings and answering questions about the Trail of Tears.
In putting together this assignment, I learned that most but not all the Cherokee were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi. The vibrant community in this neck of North Carolina is made up of either the descendants of those forced out to Oklahoma who then walked back to their homeland or those who were able to hang onto their property despite the land grab of the early s.
Next time. The only real time I have spent along the Appalachian Trail was about a week over 20 years ago and I was entirely distracted by other goings on. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training teaches you to do exactly that. After a few days of all-day lectures, you spend your first stretch of training learning how to live off the land.
Next you practice evading capture in hostile territory. Finally comes the trickiest part — learning how to resist interrogation as a prisoner of war POW , all the while trying to plan an effective escape. Have you been to Maine? It is absolutely beautiful. Have you been to Maine in February?
It is still absolutely beautiful in February — it looks like an Ansel Adams winter wonderland — but the weather is very unforgiving. It was 22 o below zero our first night on the mountain and I remember crawling into my little self-made snow cave and praying that I might still be alive in the morning. While in the classroom portion of SERE School, we were instructed how to harvest berries, none of which would be in season until June if memory serves, most of the red ones and all of the white ones will kill you , and to not eat snow, yellow or otherwise you need to heat it up and turn it into water first or it will kill you.
Having been deeply entrenched in that military experience, I cannot imagine what a rude awakening that might be for the average hiker. It was these reminiscent thoughts that were keeping me entertained as we crisscrossed the Appalachian Trail during our first hike to Clingmans Dome and back. The walk to the top of the observation tower was crowded note to self, avoid the weekend crowds in the future… , but led to some breathtaking views.
After the o view offered at the top of the tower, we ducked into the forest proper to follow the Appalachian Trail for a very modest distance to find a picnic spot. We ran into a few such hikers looking none the worse for their travels and I thought of my cousin who has hiked both the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest Trails in their entirety, leaving only the Continental Divide to go before she earns the coveted Triple Crown title. After a short stretch, we were happy to come across this beautiful setting for our lunch.
We returned to the car and were rewarded with another sleuth sighting when we wound our way down the mountain. One last stop before returning to Davista was to check out Mingus Mill, a historic and still active grist mill. Instead of using a water wheel to do the work, Mingus Mill uses a water-powered turbine that had diverted the flow of the river to harness its energy to grind grains.
At first glance, I had originally thought this was a rather inefficient planter outside, but quickly realized it was one of the original millstones. WoodSprite was bitten by a nasty bug that left a ghastly welt in its wake. Lavender oil is our go to for any bug bites as it immediately takes the sting away.
All I had on hand was Band-Aids and homemade lip balm. While I was carrying and soothing a crying WoodSprite along the waterfall path, Flight told us all to stop and back up. I had heard nothing but the shedding of tears, but when we paused heard several somethings stumbling through the nearby brush. Instead we were favored with a drove of wild boar dashing across the trail no more than ten yards ahead of us, including three wee piglets. Big brother, Keeper, took WoodSprite by the hand and helped her navigate the way ahead. Almost as sweet as seeing wild squealing piglets dashing through the woods….
At last we found what Flight had been seeking throughout our waterfall hike, a suitable place from which he could dunk his head in the stream. Instead, we opted to return to the campground and play in the river. Keeper was stoked to engage in varsity waterplay with his sisters and Dad and I stayed outside the spray radius to document it all. Before we left the next morning, WoodSprite and I went for a short hike along a nearby nature trail.
Throughout our travels, Flight and I have made it a point to carve out one-on-one time with each of the kids and I was delighted to have the opportunity to hike with WoodSprite, just the two of us. We had to cross three modified planks to get started and found a wee turtle on our way around the loop.
I also realized that these gentile mountain slopes are far more accommodating for people who may not be avid outdoor enthusiasts. After hearing all the rave reviews of this particular National Park, I was very glad we made the opportunity to check it out.
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Although it was lovely to see, and I can certainly see its appeal, my heart yearns to return to the west to view the newer crags and sharper peaks of the Cascades. They are calling me home. Asheville, NC, holds a dear place in my heart for many reasons. Apparently I exude granola. Strangely, despite embracing this latent aspect of being, I did not readily find my peeps during our first visit to Asheville. Now, I am all about living a life being mindful about the rest of my fellow creatures on this planet and our collective home. Not happening.
I refuse. Crotchety, maybe.
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Actually, that reminds me of another pretty funny conversation Flight and I had, this one while still living in Maryland. With all that said, I was a little apprehensive about what hippy factions we might encounter on our return to Asheville, not so much for their fanciful existence but for the potential of my crotchety reaction thereto.
Despite being limited by self-induced mechanical failures and the consequent repairs, we did manage to return to two highlights from our first visit. River water has sculpted the smooth rock into a long slide that has become a local draw for generations. Since we were there again early in the season, pre-season if you will, the public restrooms were closed and the water was rather, um, brisk.
Content with my memories from last year, I abstained from the sliding activities but caught some decent shots of the family. Just before we collected the car from the miracle mechanic, we drove out to Black Mountain to see what that not-so-booming metropolis was all about. I was curious about this particular town as it was the setting for two very different series of books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. The last part of the fourth book The Drums of Autumn and the first part of the fifth book The Fiery Cross , which I happened to be rereading now, is a Scottish clan gathering set in Black Mountain.
The other series is a trilogy by William Forstchen that explores what might happen in the event a nuclear device or several is detonated in space specifically to generate a massive electromagnetic pulse EMP to fry electronics across a sizable footprint. For those of you not associated with the Space Cadre, this is actually a big deal. The ramifications of detonating such a device are not what you and Stephen Colbert might think radiation fall out, scorched earth, etc.
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The series is set in Black Mountain and is a solid contemplation on how all might unfold should such an event occur. Safety Standdown complete and no hippy sightings, I was eager to get to our next destination with the Subaru parking brake appropriately released and explore the Great Smoky Mountains. That was dumb. I progressed rapidly through the stages of grief upon opening the car door in Asheville and seeing an engaged parking brake staring at me. All within about five minutes. It was tricky in other ways, too, though. It was residential, narrow, tortuously winding, and hilly.
Tacco did not like it one bit. Basically to practice being adults, spouses, and teammates. We vented our frustrations, and then, unburdened, calmly talked about the way forward.
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So… Asheville. I love Asheville. It reminds me of a smaller and more laid back Portland, but up in the hills, with a tubing-friendly river running right through town. There seems to be a great blend of Southern sensibility, outdoorsy mountain adventurousness, and granola in Asheville.
If it were closer to a commutable airport I would have seriously considered putting it on the short list of living destinations. One of the prime heat-of-the-summer activities seems to be group floats of the French Broad, peppered by stops at one or several of the various breweries along the water with convenient tube and kayak docking. So far so good!
It gets better though. As I previously mentioned, Asheville was our first Davista destination after we picked her up in Cincinnati, and the highlights of our visit were a trip to Sliding Rock, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and the Sierra Nevada brewery thereafter. That day was such a hit, in fact, that we unanimously decided to re-create it this go-around. Our accommodations this time were different, however, in that we opted to stay at a semi-remote campground near a lake outside of town rather than the in-town but nice! RV park in which we had camped previously. We actually never saw downtown Asheville this time.
And that was actually just fine. Tacco touched on how she reached and exceeded peak granola last time. We drove over a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway to get there, which is always stunning.
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The only stretch of it I had driven previously was up in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, several 16ish? I remembered from our last visit that the mountains in this area were flush with rhododendrons and had hoped that our coming a few weeks later this time would put them solidly in bloom.