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This Hiking Life Blog

This Hiking Life is a mix of my hiking trips in the Southern Appalachians, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and recently, Le Chemin de St. Jacques. It also discusses outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the mountains of North and South Carolina and beyond. Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Tulip Trees - Straight and Tall

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Oct 01, 2014 07:55 AM
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poplarscaldwellfork12-A.jpgThese trees are big. A sign on the Caldwell Fork Trail says "Big Poplars" with an arrow, inviting hikers to visit the trees on a short spur trail.

"How many people do we need to encircle this tree?" I say. "Let's hold hands all the way around." Hikers climb on the tree roots and I take a picture of the group. Most are too engrossed in stretching their arms to the next person to realize that I'm taking photos of their butts. Holding on to people on either side of you with your whole body plastered against the poplar is uncomfortable and unsteady. They let go and return to eat their lunches.

Yellow-poplars or tuliptrees were the most commercially valuable tree in the Southern Appalachians. Lumber companies never clear-cut the Cataloochee valley in what became Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The area was too remote for them and many landowners didn't allow mass scale logging, so it's not difficult to find tall and hefty trees. Tuliptrees are always big but these on Caldwell Fork are huge. It takes six adults to encircle this tree, which at its widest is estimated to be 25 feet around.

Tuliptrees grow fast and straight, the first tree to come up after an area is clear-cut. Indians made their canoes out of a single tree. When the British came over, they used tuliptrees for ship masts. No wonder they wanted to hold on to the colonies. Settlers cut down tuliptrees to build their houses and barns. It was the wood of choice to build church organs. Even now, tuliptrees are used for furniture, doors and window sashes.

The leaves have an unusual shape, with broad at the tip and base, almost forming a square, with four lobes. The large flowers, with six green petals with orange at the base, look like tulips. In the spring, they litter the ground. The distinctive leaf turns a beautiful golden yellow in the fall.

The unique leaves and flowers make the tree very easy to identify. I can't tell a chestnut oak from a white oak without a good field guide but there's no question about tuliptrees. Maybe that's why it's my favorite tree in the mountains.

Last summer, I was on a hike in the hills of Monterey with Family Nature Summits, an intergenerational camp. The group walked through forests of California giant redwood trees, which are much taller and broader than tuliptrees; everything in California is bigger. When we arrived at our lunch spot, I tried to gather willing hikers to hold hands around a huge specimen.

"It's not a great idea to stand on tree roots," Dave, the leader, whispered to me." This will stress out the redwood." Yikes! I didn't think of this. No more handholding around the Cataloochee trees either.

PS I decided not to put a picture of hikers encircling the tuliptrees.

Photographing in the Wilderness Area - Yes, you can!

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 27, 2014 04:45 PM


Can't people read? Maybe they just don't want to.

Last week, several stories came out that the US Forest Service wasn't going to allow anyone to take pictures in wilderness areas.

Since I hike in Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness Area in Pisgah National Forest and so much of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail goes through wilderness area, I paid attention to this development. The ruling didn't pass the smell test but I read the Facebook rants.

How could they deny you the right to take photographs and videos of your family?

Some comments didn't understand what a Wilderness Area was. Others couldn't tell the difference between a national forest and a national park. But they all screamed about their first amendment rights.

I looked up the rules on the US Forest Service website. It goes on and on--see the bottom of this blog post-- but here's the gist.

The Forest Service would require a permit for commercial filming, like making a movie. Still photography, even the commercial kind, wouldn't require a permit on land where the general public can access freely. I don't know about you but I can only go where the public can go.

Look at it another way.

What if the movie Cold Mountain had been filmed on Cold Mountain in Shining Rock Wilderness? The picture above is of the view from the top of Cold Mountain. There would have been trucks, vans, RVs, and even food trucks accessing the mountain. No one involved with the movie would have walked.

I would have let it go as Facebook hubris but yesterday (Friday September 26), NPR had a piece on this issue. It was obvious that no one had actually read the proposed ruling. Here's a bit that I've lifted (yes, out of context)

Chuck Brown is an Idaho attorney who's represented news outlets in several Western states over his 37-year career.

BROWN: All they are doing is sending out alarming language that isn't streamlined to their goal whatsoever.

Chuck Brown sounded so self-important. I wished I could have found a picture of him on the web.

So, read the rule and go out in the wilderness to hike and photograph. After all, you have to enter the MST photo contest.

Send your comments to the US Forest Service.

Here's the heart of the proposed rules from the Forest Service.

(a) Commercial Filming Fee.--The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture (hereafter individually referred to as the ``Secretary'' with respect to lands under their respective jurisdiction)
shall require a permit and shall establish a reasonable fee for commercial filming activities or similar projects on Federal lands administered by the Secretary. Such fee shall provide a fair return to
the United States and shall be based upon the following criteria:
(1) The number of days the filming activity or similar project takes place on Federal land under the Secretary's jurisdiction.
(2) The size of the film crew present on Federal land under the Secretary's jurisdiction.
(3) The amount and type of equipment present.

The Secretary may include other factors in determining an appropriate fee as the Secretary deems necessary.
(b) Recovery of Costs.--The Secretary shall also collect any costs incurred as a result of filming activities or similar project, including but not limited to administrative and personnel costs. All costs
recovered shall be in addition to the fee assessed in subsection (a).
(c) Still Photography.--(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary shall not require a permit nor assess a fee for still photography on lands administered by the Secretary if such photography takes place where members of the public are generally allowed. The Secretary may require a permit, fee, or both, if such photography takes place at other locations where members of the public are generally not allowed, or where additional administrative costs are likely.
(2) The Secretary shall require and shall establish a reasonable fee for still photography that uses models or props which are not a part of the site's natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
(d) Protection of Resources.--The Secretary shall not permit any filming, still photography or other related activity if the Secretary determines--
(1) there is a likelihood of resource damage;
(2) there would be an unreasonable disruption of the public's use and enjoyment of the site; or
(3) that the activity poses health or safety risks to the public.

Hike in Cataloochee with Friends of the Smokies

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 25, 2014 08:55 AM
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20140918FOTSscoutprettyhollowgap 009A.jpgJoin Friends of the Smokies for a full day of hiking on a Classic Hike deep in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail in Cataloochee Valley on Tuesday, October 14.

We'll follow this with elk viewing. I'll be leading this hike, assisted by Anna Lee.

The hike is 8.7 miles in length with a total elevation gain of 1,300 feet and is moderately difficult. It is an out-and-back hike on a horse trail alongside the rushing Palmer and Pretty Hollow Creeks.

As participants hike along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, they will experience what mountain roads were like 80 years ago winding through the thick tree canopy and rhododendron. Hikers will stop at various creek access points to enjoy the sounds and scenery of the flowing water. They will also experience the rich history of the first settlers in Cataloochee Valley. Hikers will learn about the historical buildings, cemeteries and the annual family reunions honoring the first homesteading families in the Cataloochee area. Donations to Friends of the Smokies help with the maintenance of many of those buildings.

Once hikers return from their hike in the woods and out into Cataloochee Valley, they will be treated to the sights and bugling sounds of elk in rut. During September and October, during mating season, bulls up to 800 pounds compete with one another over cows. Donations to Friends of the Smokies go toward elk management, keeping the valley mowed and open, and supporting the Elk Bugle Corps volunteers who help educate visitors about the elk and how to safely view them.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies are $10 for current members and $35 for non-members who will receive a one-year membership. Members who bring a friend hike for free. All registration donations benefit the Smokies Trails Forever program.

Carpools will leave from Asheville, and Maggie Valley.

To register for this or any upcoming Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact Anna Lee at 828-452-0720.

Driving the Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 22, 2014 02:40 PM
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Don't go to Selma, Alabama on a Sunday afternoon.

20140916semoAMEchurch.JPGThe small town of about 20,000 residents is shut tight but that's when I arrived after a full day at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. I didn't have to fight for a parking space downtown.

I was here to visit the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, commemorating the 1965 historic 54-mile walk to demand equal voting rights for African-Americans. The actual trail is on US 80, now a four-lane divided highway. However, I wanted to do it right, by starting at the beginning.

I walked to the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal, the start of the Selma to Montgomery march. It's still an active church across the street from a housing project. Children were playing ball and rode bikes on the quiet street.

Monday morning, I showed up at the Interpretive Center, a storefront just before the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as the building opened up. The ranger was eager to tell the story of the iconic civil rights march from here to Montgomery, the Alabama state capital.

Just as fascinating is the story of Henry Allen, who did part of the march, when he was in high school. Now, after a long career as a fire fighter and the first African-American firechief in Selma, Allen works as a park volunteer and a tour guide.

Allen explained that African-Americans had been systematically denied the right to vote by imposing literacy tests, poll taxes, and plain old-fashioned intimidation. Selma also had an identifiable enemy in county sheriff Jim Clark. He was violent but predictable. In a weird way, the effort needed the sheriff to get national attention. The Dallas County Voters League had added a few voters by holding classes but the bulk of the Black population was still disenfranchised.

The march also needed Martin Luther King, who brought media and money. Bernard Lafayette, a long-time organizer of SNCC - Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee - came to Selma. They looked at voting as a basic right.

Sheriff Clark and his men thwarted several early attempts at assembling and marching. On March 7, known as Bloody Sunday, marchers walked slowly up to the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River. A sea of state troopers blocked the road. When the marchers didn't move, the troopers hit them with their nightsticks and kicked them. They released tear gas and chased the marchers through the streets of Selma. This was on national TV and the spotlight was on Selma.

Finally, a judge allowed the march. President Johnson nationalized Alabama guardsmen and dispatched more protection for the potentially thousands that were going to walk to Montgomery.

"There were a lot of youth and college students, Henry recalls. "They didn't have jobs on the line and were a critical factor in the movement."

The March started on Sunday March 21, 1965 from the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. From the many photos in the interpretative center, you can see that marchers wore their best clothes. Men had on suits and ties, and leather dress shoes. Women were in dresses and sandals. They walked three abreast in one lane, keeping the other lane clear for traffic on US 80.

"Reverend King didn't walk the whole time," Henry said. "He came in and out of the march."

In Lowndes County, where the road narrowed to two lanes, only 300 people were allowed to continue the march. The guardsmen didn't think they could protect more marchers. When the road widened again, more marchers came by bus, ending at Camp 4, at a Catholic Church in Montgomery. That's when the stars came out including Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte. The next day, they marched the four miles to the state capitol. Over 25,000 gathered to listen to speeches and sing, "We shall overcome." President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. They were never able to meet with Governor Wallace.

20140916semocamp1 001A.jpgThe March had four stops. After the Selma interpretive center, I drove slowly on US 80, stopping where the marchers had camped for the night.

Sympathetic and courageous Black farmers had offered their land for the night. Organizers provided food and tents for the marchers. One man stands out in every photo and website dealing with the march. He's a burly middle-aged white man from Michigan, who walked the whole way on crutches because he only had one leg.

On the park website, Lynda Lowery, a marcher remembers him.
There was a guy named Jim Letterer. Jim was a white guy with one leg (from Michigan). He walked on crutches all the way from Selma to Montgomery. He carried a flag sometimes and I am in some of the pictures with him now. But Jim said before he let anything happen to me, he would lay down and die. But the fact that this man would die for me, and he didn't even know my name kind of thing, you know. He was there; he would die for me. That made me go all the way from Selma to Montgomery.

The Lowndes Interpretive Center sits about halfway on the route along with the site of a tent city. At the time, white landowners had evicted black tenant farmers from their land because they registered to vote or helped others register. Some African-American families had no place to go but SNCC erected a tent city for families. A few stayed as long as two years.

Congress designated the historic trail in 1996. The Lowndes Interpretive Center opened in 2006 and the Selma interpretive center in 2011.

But now the rest of the story.

In 2011, the Alabama state legislature passed a voter id law. Effective June 2014, every voter needs a photo ID. If you have a driver's license, that's your identification - no problem.

However, if you're not a driver, you can show several other documents. If not, you can get a nondriver ID. However, how do you prove who you are to get an ID that shows who you are? You can go around in circles, trying to decipher this 17-page document. And how do you get this pamphlet if you don't have access to the web? Most nondrivers are not going to persevere.

"Is that a step backwards?" I asked Allen.

"It's not just an African-American issue," Allen said. "It will hurt the old, poor and young who are less likely to drive."

Fall Harvest in the Smokies

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 19, 2014 09:15 AM
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park  Celebrates Fall Harvest at the Mountain Farm Museum

Volunteers Hannah Reed and Gee Phillips making lye soap (low res).jpgCome to the annual Mountain Life Festival in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Saturday, September 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Mountain Farm Museum adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

This special event preserves the legacy of Appalachian folkways and is a tribute to the many families who lived on lands that later became the national park.

The Mountain Life Festival provides an opportunity to share with park visitors some of the traditional fall activities that were an important part of rural life in the southern mountains and reflect the spirit of cooperation that existed among families and neighbors. All activities are free and open to the public including demonstrations of hearth cooking, apple butter making, sorghum syrup making, blacksmithing, lye soap making, food preservation, and chair bottoming. Artifacts and historic photographs from the national park's collection will also be on display.

The syrup making demonstration has been the centerpiece of the event for over 30 years. The sorghum syrup is made much the same way it was produced a hundred or more years ago, using a horse-powered cane mill and a wood-fired cooker.

And of course, there's music. You can also listen to  music jam sessions which are held on the porch of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center every first and third Saturday of the month from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

For more information, call the visitor center at (828) 497-1904.

Gen Jackson and me in Central Alabama

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 16, 2014 02:55 PM
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20140914HOBEgunhill 012A.jpgThe first time I heard of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was at the "Unto Those Hills" pageant in Cherokee, North Carolina. The outdoor play concentrates on the history of the Trail of Tears from a Cherokee perspective. In the play, they mention that Junaluska, a Cherokee, saved Andrew Jackson's life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in central Alabama is not easy to find and not a place to drop in; you need to want to go there. It's off a small road, away from any town. I had stayed in Oxford, Alabama the night before and followed my car GPS, phone GPS and a state map. About five miles from the entrance, I found the familiar and comforting brown sign. On a beautiful Sunday morning, I was the only visitor in the park. I felt that they had opened the park just for me.

Two SCA (Student Conservation Association) volunteers greeted me. No ranger was on duty that day. I watched a twenty-minute video, which recounted the complicated history of the Indian-European situation at the time. Here goes:

The Creek Indians in what is now Alabama supplied deerskins to Europeans before the American Revolution but after the revolution, the US was more interested in land than skins. The British gave a lot of Creek land to US as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the revolution.

That was nice of the Brits but it wasn't their land to give away. To make matters worse, the Creek were split on how they should live with the European presence. The Lower Creek adopted European ways, such as agriculture.

Enter Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior born in Ohio, who preached going back to the traditional ways and drive the "white man" from Indian Land. Today, we might refer to him as an outside agitator. Tecumseh wanted to create a pan-Indian confederacy to unite against the United State, just as the US united against the Brits. The Upper Creek Indians, referred to as Red Sticks because they painted their war clubs red, listened to this message.

After several attacks from both sides, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson felt that “Creek should not threaten the frontier or American expansion.” The Red Sticks built Tohopeka Village into the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River; the fortifications were supposed to render the village impenetrable to attacks.

On March 27, 1814, Jackson tried a frontal attack on the fort but to no avail. The Cherokees, who allied themselves with Jackson, crossed the river and attacked the Red Sticks from the rear of the village.

After a fierce battle, the Creek were defeated and ceded 23 million acres to the US, much of it becoming the state of Alabama.

Armed with this brief history, I got a park brochure, showing a 2.8-mile trail as well as a three-mile drive. First, the loop walk which crossed and recrossed the road. Each time the trail entered the woods, it had a sign, which warned you about "potentially Hazardous Wildlife" such as ticks, mosquitoes and poisonous snakes and plants. There were more signs on this trail than I saw in days of hiking in Denali. I didn't see any snakes or mosquitoes and hopefully, a tick didn't bite me.

20140914HOBEfield 002A.jpgToday, the site is a mixture of an oak, pine and hickory forest and several quiet meadows. I didn't encounter a single hiker and only one group of bikers zooming on the road.

In 1959, Horseshoe Bend was proclaimed a National Military Park. The state and Alabama Power had donated 2,040 acres. However, before it became part of the park service, a large monument was placed on Gun Hill commemorating the battle with the wrong date - 03/29/1814.

A plaque showing the terminus of Jackson's route through the wilderness was placed by the U.S. Daughters of the War of 1812. Well, if you can have Daughters of the American Revolution, of the Confederacy, Grand Old Army, why not of the War of 1812?  It seems that almost every US war has a Daughters group.

But what happened to Junaluska? Why is he not mentioned anywhere on the Horseshoe Bend site or website? I've got to check this out.

As for Andrew Jackson, he headed to Louisiana for the Battle of New Orleans - and that's where I'm heading to in a couple of weeks.

PS I emailed Ranger Heather Tassin and asked about Junaluska. Here's what she said:

We have no records that Junaluska was present at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend since he is not listed in the muster rolls. I have heard this same story, but it is probably more in reference to the Cherokees' participation in the battle than literally saving Jackson's life. The Cherokee warrior Whale swam across the river, stole canoes to shuttle people across and attacked the village of Tohopeka which changed the course of the battle and ultimately resulted in Jackson's victory.

Chasing parks in the Alabama hills

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 14, 2014 10:10 PM
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20140913liricanyon 001A.jpgOh, the places I go, while chasing down national parks of the Southeast. I’m glad that I committed to visit them all, independent of whether they “sounded interesting.”

The last couple of days, Beth, my hiking friend, and I wandered through the hills of northern Alabama. We stayed at Desoto State Park and visited three national park units.

First Russell Cave national monument, a cave that protected Indians from the elements for over 9,000 years. There's not much to do there. We looked inside the cave as far as we could go. Then we took a steep 1.5-mile loop trail.

We hunted down several artifacts from the Trail of Tears in and around Fort Payne including a cabin site, cemetery, and the house of Andrew Ross, a Cherokee leader. Fort Payne is also the home of the country music group, Alabama.

In contrast, Little River Canyon National Preserve was a hot bed of activity. The Little River flows on top of a mountain, and then plunges at the head of the canyon. The drive starts, or ends, at Little River Falls, which drops 45 feet.

It’s a small unit without an independent visitor center. The non-profit, which acts as an information center, was open from 10 am to 4 pm. We started the Canyon Rim Drive before 8 am and didn’t finish until after 4 pm, stopping at every overlook and walking every trail.

Beaver Pond Trail took us on a flat loop, where we found, we think, the remains of a snake-bird encounter. Lots of jewelweed, winter green and aster lined the trail. It was the only flat trail on the drive.

20140913lirimushroomrock 008A.jpgMushroom Rock is a group of huge boulders with a pattern like a rhinoceros. You could get lost in its maze.

Several trails, such as the steep Lower Two-mile Trail, took us down to the river.

At the bottom of one river section, we met two couples with small children.20140913lirifamily 023A.jpg The parents had packed the children down the canyon and were ready to go back up with their precious load. Good for them!

They weren’t waiting until the kids grew up. Then it’s too late to get them interested in the outdoors.

On the first section of the drive, we saw some signs of private property. A few houses were discreetly camouflaged by trees.  But people live off the Little Canyon Road. Bow hunting and trapping are still allowed.

After the Eberhart trailhead, the road is rougher, less traveled, and steeper. Lots of back roads and driveways emanate here along with more private houses. The drive ends at the canyon mouth park, with a gentle trail up the canyon and a picnic area.20140913lirilittleriverfalls 026A.jpgThis is the first place where we meet a couple of rangers.

Little River was designated an Alabama Wild and Scenic River in 1969, giving it a lot of protection. It became part of the National Park System in 1992.

Goodbye to the Alabama hills. I'm moving south.

Visiting the first national military park

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 13, 2014 09:55 PM
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20140910Chic01wilderbrigademonument 026A.jpgI’ve finished the fourth day of my Southeastern National Park swing. Because I didn’t have internet access for a couple of days, it feels like I just started this trip.

Chickamauga Battlefield in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia is much bigger than Chattanooga, with a modern visitor center.

First, I drove the seven-mile loop road, stopping at various places.20140910Chic01boundaryline 022A.jpg This is always exhausting to me. Stop, get out of the car, walk a few steps, and get back in.

The picture to the left is the boundary line between the two sides.

The park is bisected by a busy road, but so is the Smokies with US 441.

The park is full of monuments to both sides of the conflict. The Wilde Brigade monument stands out among all the others. It looks like White Castle, a tower with a steep circular staircase. I walked to the top and met a couple with a dog, thankfully on a leash. They were trying to encourage this poor animal to walk down the narrow, tight stairs. There are places where dogs don’t belong. The monument honored Indiana and Illinois troops, including Captain Eli Lilly of the 18th Indiana battalion.

The park has about 50 miles of trail. I walked the big seven-mile loop through the military park, past more memorials.20140910Chic01snodgrasscabin 029A.jpg Here is the Snodgrass cabin, which was used as a makeshift hospital during the battle.

I saw two hikers and four women doing a day of service on 9/11. They were cleaning memorials with a spray of water.

ChickChat was the first national military park, created in 1890. It was supported by veterans from both sides who recognized that preserving portions of battlefields, commemorating the deeds of their comrades, and honoring the men who had fallen would benefit the reunited nation. In addition to historic and educational values, the National Military Park was created as part of the healing process for a nation that had been torn asunder by war.

This was carefully explained in the visitor center. Am I the only person who didn’t know that? Most historians would say that it’s more complicated than that but I’m a history user. This also explains why the military units concentrate so much of maneuvers and tactics – the blue stood here, the gray stood there – instead of bigger questions of causes and effects of the Civil War.

At ChickChat Looking for Lookout Mountain

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 11, 2014 06:20 AM
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20140910Chat01view 012A.jpgOn a short road trip to continue checking out Southeastern national parks

Do you know that there’s an International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga? I was trying to find Lookout Mountain in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park – ChickChat, as they call it. I was looking for Chat but there were more brown signs for the Towing museum than for Lookout Mountain. My car GPS was confused as well. I saw many signs for Point Park along with Ruby Falls and Rock City. It turns out that all those black Point Park signs pointed to Lookout Mountain.

At the Chat visitor center, the ranger was disinterested and just handed me the park brochure. But at 10 AM sharp, a volunteer showed up who was willing to talk to visitors.

A bit of history
After Union troops were defeated in Chickamauga (Chick), they retreated to Chattanooga. Confederates then  blocked the roads and rail lines, preventing Federal supplies from entering Chattanooga. With reinforcements, Federal troops were able to open a shorter supply line, which they called the Cracker Line, because they brought hard tack, a cracker than could break whatever teeth soldiers still had. But, hey, it was food.

20140910Chat01entrance 004A.jpgThat reinvigorated the Union army which pushed the Confederates out of their defenses, on hills above Chat, which became known as the battle above the clouds.

Chat, the gateway to the Deep South, was now in Union hands. It was a very strategic victory because the area had roads and railroads in every direction in addition to the Tennessee River. Chat became the base for Sherman’s drive to Atlanta and the sea.

The visitor center has the obligatory film and displays but it also has a huge painting titled The battle above the clouds by James Walker. From the web and as described at the visitor center:

In 1864 artist James Walker completed a painting commissioned by the federal government of the action of November 24, 1863, which he called "The Battle of Lookout Mountain." In 1870 General Joseph Hooker commissioned Walker to paint a much larger version (13 feet by 30 feet) of his original painting for $20,000. Walker returned to Chattanooga and studied the landscape. He paid a photographer to take pictures as well. After Walker presented the painting to Hooker it toured the United States and remained in Hooker's family until 1970, when it was donated to the National Park Service. Today the painting hangs in the Visitors Center near the entrance to Point Park.

But enough history.

20140910Chat01NYmemorial 009A.jpgI left the visitor center and toured the top of Lookout Mountain. The biggest memorial is from New York State. From Lookout Mountain, you can see the Tennessee River and the whole city of Chattanooga. See the picture above.

No place to go but down into a network of rocky trails, below cliff towers.20140910Chattrail01 016A.jpg

I walked down past rock climbers and a man reading in a hammock to Sunset Point. The trails were lush with late summer flowers, kudzu, and poison ivy.

I could have spent a couple of days exploring the trails but I was eager to move onto Chickamauga and check it out tomorrow.

PS I know. Most visitors would have done both areas in one day and more. But I can't absorb more than one park or one site a day.

On the Trail with Rock Stars - A.T., MST and Forney Ridge

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 10, 2014 06:45 AM
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Yesterday's hike with 20140909FOTSForneyRidgegroup 002A.jpg was difficult to scout, difficult to set up but the payoff was great.

Several years ago, Holly D., NC director of Friends of the Smokies, wanted a hike on Forney Ridge Trail off Clingmans Dome to show off the beautiful rock work, funded by Friends Trails Forever program. The trail goes from the Clingmans Dome parking lot to Andrews Bald. But 3.4 miles (round-trip) was not going to get me (or most hikers) to drive almost two hours to Clingmans Dome from Asheville.

So I devised a hike that would take us from the Fork Ridge Trail on the Clingmans Dome Road on the A.T. and Mountains-to-Sea Trail to Clingmans Done Tower and then continue onto Andrews Bald. We had to have cars at the Dome and at the trailhead; something that some hikers couldn't picture.

"Don't worry about it," I kept saying. "It will work out."

20140909FOTSForneyRidgeBrian 004A.jpgTwenty-two hikers started on the A.T./MST section. We met Brian, a backcountry ranger, who asked if we were camping. Now, seeing a backcountry ranger on the MST is rarer than seeing a bear. I think it's my first sighting.

The trail is rough here and it took us until lunchtime to get to the tower where we had lunch. After lunch, we walked down the paved trail to the Forney Ridge Trail. Who should we see but Leanna Joyner, from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy? She was in full hiking gear, on her way to check out a relo on the A.T.

20140909FOTSForneyRidgeTobias 005A.jpgTobias Miller, a rock star, met us at the trailhead. Tobias is one of the park folks responsible for the beautiful rehab work on the Forney Ridge trail.

He's the head of maintenance in the park and so much more. He talked to us about the work involved in making this trail as walkable as it is.

Holly joined us at Andrews Bald and reiterated how important the Trails Forever fund is for the park. The current rehab project is the Chimney Tops Trail, which we hope to walk next year.

Thank you, Anna Lee, for so ably sweeping the hike. And thanks to J.P. for also sweeping, so Anna Lee could talk to others on the trail.

I'm on the road right now for my current project (the Southeastern National Park units). But sign up with Anna Lee for the October 14 hike in Cataloochee. I promise that the hike setup won't be as challenging.

To register for this or any upcoming Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact

CMC Firescald Bald Hike - and more

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 07, 2014 08:50 PM

20140907ATfirescaldbald1.JPGToday's Carolina Mountain Club Firescald Bald hike was nothing like the scout.

Lenny and I scouted the hike a couple of weeks ago. We started from the top of Viking Mountain Rd on the way to Greeneville, TN, took a blue access trail that led to the A.T. heading north toward Jerry's Cabin.

Same hike today, with only two other hikers. Were the others concerned about the forecast? We took the famous Firescald Bald, a section of rock steps and slabs with great views toward NC on the right and TN on the left. We went slowly but the weather was with us in the morning.

We got to Jerry's Cabin shelter, a shelter that had obviously been a cabin a long time ago. Part of it was still stone. We sat down to lunch when John, a backpacker, came in with a dog. From the dog collar and radio antenna, we could see that the dog was a hunting dog.

20140907atfirescaldbald2.JPGHunting season has not started but hunters are training their dogs and staking out their territory and strategy. The dog was part of the training regiment but it got separated from the group. It was following John who had fed it.

Now John was turning the dog over to us. What!! He felt that we should try to get it back to its owner. John had called the owner; the telephone number was on the dog collar. Reluctantly, we took him on. But why was it sniffing me? There were three other hikers to befriend.

After lunch, we seduced it with food. probably not the kind of food that a dog should eat - trail mix and chocolate - but we wanted it to follow us and let John continue his backpack. At one point, I gave it a piece of apple but just like a child, the dog refused it and was looking for more sweets.

And then the skies opened up. It rained hard. Little rivulets became streams on the trail. Water came out of every side spring. We got drenched, all but the dog, of course, who didn't have any equipment to worry about.

In all that rain, I called the owners again and left another message. I told them exactly where our trailhead was and that's where we were leaving his hunting dog.

When we got to the blue trail, there was a huge pick-up. While we had walked this access trail, the hunter had driven it with his monster truck. Hunters don't walk. "The dog got lost yesterday," he said and thanked us.

When we got back to the trailhead, it was like a pick-up convention. Several groups had driven to the trailhead just to look; they weren't walking.

But one man, Ronny, approached us and said that he walked a little of the A.T. here but didn't know where it led to. He lived locally but had never explored the trails, which is not surprising at all.

He wanted to walk from here to Roan Mountain. He had never backpacked before; he hadn't even done a full-day hike but he stopped smoking and lost quite a bit of weight and wanted to know how to backpack. He had left us a note on my car which said:

Hello: My name is Ronny. I see you may be a hiker by the stickers on your car. I am thinking about hiking the Appalachian Trail from Roan Mountain to this spot here where your car is. It's about 84 miles according to the Internet. Any info you may have about the trail would be greatly appreciated.

And he left his phone number. It seemed like a strange way to learn about the A.T.

I'm glad we got a chance to talk to him. We suggested that he join Smoky Mountains Hiking Club and go out with them for a while. Will he do it? We'll never know.

Acting Smokies Superintendent says goodbye

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 06, 2014 08:10 PM

HannahSuperintendentA.jpgActing Superintendent Cindy MacLeod (on the left) says goodby to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She's the second acting superintendent the Smokies has had. She writes:

Clay Jordan will be the acting superintendent in the park and will continue in that role until the permanent superintendent arrives in the park.

Working with you in Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer has been a highlight of my NPS career.  I have loved everyplace I have been in my 34 years, I must add, and it is inspiring to know that so many men and women are dedicated to the mission of the NPS. Thank you for teaching me about your work here, sharing your passion with me, demonstrating that the Great Smokies are in good hands, letting me play a part in the stewardship of such a treasured and storied national park.

I love the rocks, the waterfalls, the wildflowers, the critters large and small, the views, the structures, the trails, the trees, the fields, the history, the smells and sounds.  The clouds, mists, sun, and rain, too! You, the people of the park – volunteer, partner, career, temporary – are the heart of it all.  I’ve listened to you on the park radio; I’ve sat in meetings with you; I’ve hiked with you; I’ve enjoyed park programs with you; I’ve agonized with you over setting priorities for funding; I’ve rejoiced over new hires; I’ve mourned with you over losses of park staff in tragic circumstances; I raided the museum collection to spruce up the superintendent’s office; I planned with you for the Centennial of the NPS; I’ve offered perspective on contentious issues; I’ve tried to challenge assumptions in order to make sound decisions; I’ve urged you to listen carefully to each other; I’ve tried to keep safety at the forefront everyday; I’ve felt privileged to serve as your superintendent.

Please continue to work together to protect the resources and provide for their enjoyment.  Our mission has inherent conflicts but we shouldn’t with each other – we need to identify how we and our partners can multiply the good effects of what funding we have and make the best possible steps forward in creating more good stewards and in being good stewards for perpetuity.  As Pedro Ramos said as he left, there are challenges ahead.  I agree that one of the most important things we can do is to continue learning about the cultural and natural resources, their interplay and their evolution, and we need to anticipate threats and needs in order to be prepared to manage effectively.

Thank you again. I look forward to seeing any one of you again in Philadelphia, the Smokies, or where ever our paths take us.  Best of luck to you – enjoy 2015 and our Centennial year.  It’s a great time to be in the NPS!

It's a great letter but the park needs a permanent superintendent.

Tracks, the Movie - Never say Never

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 04, 2014 12:45 PM

tracksA.jpgYesterday I read a small item in Time Magazine that made me leave my breakfast and scurry to my computer. In a long list of fall movies, Time said that Tracks was coming out in a couple of weeks. Finally, a movie?

Tracks recounts the tale of Robyn Davidson, a 20-something Australian woman, who treks 1,700 miles across the outback. She did the walk with several camels in the 1970s and her book was published in 1980.

In 1992, I lived in New Zealand for six months on an academic sabbatical. After my teaching stint, Lenny and I met in Australia where we toured and hiked, or bushwalked as they call it. We visited Alice Springs in the center of the country and climbed Ayers Rock, Uluru. Nowadays climbing the Rock is really frowned upon since it's considered a sacred place for Aborigines.

I discovered Davidson’s book on this trip. She was sponsored by National Geographic on the condition that a photographer meet her at various points on her trek to photograph her. Of course, she accepted these terms.

Eventually she has an affair with the photographer. Davidson portrays herself as unprepared and disorganized which makes a better book, I guess, than the fit, organized Jennifer on the A.T. in Called Again.

Completely coincidentally, the National Geographic photo exhibition entitled From Alice to Ocean, was on display in Sydney when we were there. Almost immediately after, there was talk about a movie. Julia Roberts was going to play Davidson. Well, Roberts was in everything at the time, so why not this movie? But it never happened.

Davidson seems to have led a writer’s life in several countries. Now she's in her early 60s and I wonder if this movie will fundamentally change her life. Mia Wasikowska, a fellow Aussie, is playing Davidson in her 20s.

So there’s hope for any book. I don’t think that anyone will make a movie of The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina. Besides I did this trek only a couple of years ago, so who would play me? When I was much younger, I indulged in a fantasy that Sally Field could play me. We're the same age and height. But I don’t think she’s that active anymore. But what about Diane Van Deren, the ultra runner, who ran the MST in just over 22 days?

I hope that Tracks will come to Asheville soon. Are you listening, Fine Arts Theater? And I’ll be there on opening night.

Enter Friends of the MST photo contest - 2014

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Sep 02, 2014 04:25 PM
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MST - Sharon crossing Deep CreekIt's that time of the year - the annual Friends of the MST photo contest.

What are your best pictures of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail?  A committee put together by Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will judge. You have until October 31 to send in your best pictures.

There are two categories for those of us older than 17 - views from the trail and people on the trail. They ask for a maximum of two in each category. You can see all the rules and regs at

For the past three years, I've had the honor of winning third prize in the "people on the trail". I've not sent in any beautiful pictures of views and flowers because I'm not a good enough photographer to compete. But people?? I can find quirky hikers and funny situations. The picture above is of Sharon, my hiking partner, crossing Deep Creek.

If you hike the MST in Western North Carolina off the Blue Ridge Parkway or in the Smokies, you must have a bunch of pictures that can be contenders. So go through them and send in your best.

Not happy with what you have? Well, that's easy. Get on the MST and shoot more prize-winning pictures.

Remember - the deadline is October 31, Halloween.

Gran Fondo Asheville - Bicycle Race

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 30, 2014 09:15 PM
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Big bicycle race on Sunday September 7!

Whether you are a beginner or a hardcore racer, the Gran Fondo Asheville takes cycling to the next level. Challenge yourself on 30-, 60- or 110-mile routes and compete for the best combined time. The race features mechanic support, fully stocked aid stations along the route, food & beverage at the finish, a cash purse, and prizes for overall and age-group winners.
Experience one of the most beautiful race courses in the country and cross the finish line in the heart of Downtown Asheville! Look here to register.
How You Can Help
If you want to support Friends of the Smokies but are not able to participate in the race, here are some ways you can help:

Sponsor A Rider
Have a friend or family member racing in the Gran Fondo Asheville? Go the extra mile and make a gift in their name.
Sponsor your rider at $0.50, $0.75 or $1.00 per mile and give them the boost they need to finish strong!

Retired Smokies Deputy Superintendent and triathlete, Kevin Fitzgerald asked his friends and family to sponsor him in the race. And what's more, if he wins his age group, they will double their donations! Follow his lead and try to keep up!

Scouting a Hike with new Friends of the Smokies Staff

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 28, 2014 04:25 PM

20140826FOTSAndrewsbald 052A.jpgI've always said that every hike is different, even if the trails are the same.

A couple of days ago, I scouted a hike for the September 9 Friends of the Smokies hike with Anna Lee Zanetti, the new Development & Outreach Associate in the North Carolina office. Friends had decided that it was time to move up from interns, as good as they were, to permanent staff. So, welcome, Anna Lee.

20140826FOTSAnnaleeonMST041A.jpgAnna Lee comes with great qualifications and most important to me, she is eager to hike. Yippee! Here she is on top of Clingmans Dome at the western end of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

We scouted a hike that shows off so many important aspects of the park. We started on the Clingmans Dome road and walked westbound on the MST, which is also southbound on the Appalachian Trail.

This section, among the spruce-fir forest, is the only piece of trail where the MST and A.T. are concurrent. We met a couple of A.T. southbounders and even a flip-flopper. The guy had started in Hot Springs, walked to Katahdin, Maine. Then he got himself back to Hot Springs and is walking south to Springer, GA. I made sure that he knew that he was also on the MST.

20140826FOTSclingmansdome045A.jpgAt the Clingmans Dome tower, Anna Lee and I hunkered down and had our lunch. The assortment of people who had come up from the parking lot were not prepared for the wind and fog.

Here's an Eastern View from Clingmans Dome but we couldn't see the ocean. Hah! Hah! or even Mt. Mitchell. I don't think this will win a prize in the MST photo contest. I've got to try harder.

Once back in the parking lot, we walked out to Andrews Bald on Forney Ridge Trail. This was the first trail that was rehabilitated with money from Trails Forever, funded by Friends of the Smokies. The view at Andrews Bald was magnificent. See the top picture.

Getting a Ride back to our cars

Our car was about 3.5 miles down the road from Clingmans Dome. We could have taken two cars but it was an long, long way to drive from Asheville. So I suggested to Anna Lee that we could probably get a ride back to our car. She was a little skeptical.

"Or worse come to worse, we could walk back another 3.6 miles" I said.

When we got to Andrews Bald, I looked around for a likely driver to give us a ride. A couple from northern Michigan was enjoying the view and I went to chat with them.

The view, Friends of the Smokies, wasn't the Forney Ridge trail beautiful? And oh, any chance we could get a ride from you back to our car?

Of course, they said.

They got back to the parking lot only a few minutes after us, found their car, and picked us up at the trail sign. It was so easy that it didn't even challenge my skills at getting a ride.

Anna Lee and I will lead the hike on Tuesday September 9. We will have enough cars so I won't have to get rides for everyone. But if you want to really challenge me...

To register for this or any upcoming Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact or 828-452-0720.

Cold Mountain with Carolina Mountain Club

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 26, 2014 08:45 PM

20140824ColdMountain.JPGOn Sunday, I went up to Cold Mountain with Carolina Mountain Club. It was the standard, scheduled Sunday hike. Because the hike is in the Shining Rock Wilderness, the group size was restricted to 10 people. Brent Martin, who works for the Wilderness Society, was certainly going to keep to the legal limit.

I signed up for the hike almost two months ago. But to my surprise, only eight people showed up. I was sure that this hike was going to be a sell-out a month ago. I only knew Beth R., and Brent and his wife Angela. The others were new to the club.

It was a tough hike - 10.4 miles and 3,400 feet, according the CMC schedule. But all the climbing was on the way out to the top. Some of the trail was flattish, so it was more like 3,400 feet in about four miles. The trail was rocky and steep; no nice switchbacks like in the Smokies.

The first time I hiked up Cold Mountain must have been 2001, when we moved to Asheville. Tom Sanders, the leader, didn't know me and explained how difficult it was going to be. He was right.

I've done it several times since then. But I was surprised that none of the hikers I did the Cold Mountain then were on this hike. What hike were they doing?

The top was all foggy and I felt sorry for those who had reached the top for the first time. The picture I took was on top so I couldn't back up enough to get the whole group in. Sorry to those who got cut out of the picture. Maybe I'll see you on another CMC hike.

National Park Service in 98 years old on Monday Aug. 25

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 23, 2014 12:00 PM
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2014FOTSNewtonbaldhike-02A.jpgGreat Smoky Mountains National Park will celebrate the 98th birthday of the National Park Service on Monday, August 25. There will be many ranger-led programs at park visitor centers. Of course, you can enjoy exploring the park along a scenic roadway, trail, or river on your own.

This is like a practice run for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. On Monday, August 25, all park entrances in all parks will be free. There are just two more entrance-fee-free days this year: September 27, to mark National Public Lands Day, and November 11, Veterans Day.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Acting Superintendent Cindy MacLeod said "We look forward to the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.”

Most units of the park system don't charge fees, and that includes the Smokies. Just 133 of the 401 units have entrance fees.

Leading a group through Hazel Creek

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 20, 2014 03:55 PM
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20140820GSMAHazelcreek700.jpgThe Smokies are my home park. I seem to be in one part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park or another every week. But some areas of the park are much more popular and accessible than others.

About six months ago, Lisa Duff, marketing director of Great Smoky Mountains Association, asked if I would lead a hike to Bone Valley from Hazel Creek. I hadn’t been on that trail since 2008, when I did a three-day backpack with Sharon, Smoky Scout, the bang-on start to her Smokies 900M challenge. The Hazel Creek trail starts in the deserted town of Proctor. The fastest way to get there is a 30-minute boat shuttle across Fontana Lake.

But here, we weren’t going to backpack.

“Sure, “I told Lisa, “I’d love to. But this is not a day hike.” The drive to Fontana Village is over two hours from Asheville. “We need to stay at Fontana Village the night before. And I won’t be able to scout the hike. I’m sure I can find my way.” Lisa and Marti, also in Marketing, put the overnight trip together. They screened the hikers before they signed up. Marti is a Smokies 900M as well and a strong hiker.

On Monday, I drove out to Fontana Village, a historic resort in the southwest corner of the Smokies. I had volunteered to lead a half-day hike as well.20140820GSMAHazelCreek530.jpg It seemed worthwhile to get as much in as possible since I never know when I’ll get the opportunity again.  Only two other hikers took me up on the half-day hike.

We drove to Fontana Dam, the tallest dam in the Eastern US but the access road across the dam was closed for maintenance. So we walked the road and walked another 0.5 mile to the trailhead.

We took Lakeshore Trail, a flattish trail, to the old cars. Where did these cars come from? You can read an article that I wrote for National Parks Traveler.

Here’s a quickie summary. The area north of the lake was not part of the original park. During World War II, TVA flooded NC 288 to create Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake. The residents had to move out, quite quickly. Some left their cars in place. Remember that during the war, there was tire and gas rationing. And who knows how well these cars were working.

But Hazel Creek predates that history. The Ritter Lumber Company came in the area in 1902 to log the area. By the 1920s, Proctor was a modern town with electricity, schools, and even a movie theater. When Ritter decided that they had brought down every tree worth logging, they left the area, taking everything with them. Many logging families went with them to the Pacific Northwest. The ones left were back to subsistence farming.

On Tuesday, 20 hikers took the Fontana ferry to Proctor. We crossed Hazel Creek on a substantial bridge and started walking. The trail is maintained as an administrative road because park SUVs travel up to maintain the Hall Cabin, our destination. It climbs ever so gently that I thought we’d be able to keep the group together.

But alas, by mid-morning, some had shot ahead of me and others stayed with Marti, who was acting as sweep,
We turned on Bone Valley Trail, a short minor trail that would take us to the Hall cabin. There were five water crossings, about calf-deep on me.

Each person took the crossing a different way. A few just got into the water without hesitation. I was part of that group. My boots and socks got wet but my feet were protected from rocks, roots and anything else that I couldn’t see at the bottom of the flowing stream.

Others changed into water shoes, which offered less protection but kept their boots dry. A couple of hikers used flip-flops, which seemed dangerous on the ankles. And a few others walked barefoot. A woman slipped and fell in. I’m not sure which group she belonged to. By the time she righted herself, it didn’t matter how wet her feet were.

By now, we were in two major groups: slow and fast. We all had lunch at the Hall Cabin, a large cabin built in 1892. The Halls took in tourists that wanted to fish in the Smokies before it became a park. I took a few hikers to the Bone Valley cemetery. When it was time to recross the five creeks on Bone Valley Trail, some took it slowly and carefully.

Turning back on Hazel Creek, a few of us climbed the Jenkins Ridge Cemetery. Cemeteries are often put at the top of a hill, saving the best bottomland for farming. I’m not sure if “Jenkins Ridge” is the official name of the cemetery but it was located close to the junction of Hazel Creek and Jenkins Ridge Trail. It was obvious that Decoration Day had occurred recently. The graves were all mounted neatly, a Southern Appalachian tradition and new plastic flowers had been stuck in the ground.

We walked at our own pace. We had asked for the boat to come back for us at 5:45 pm and it was obvious that we were going to be quite early. We gathered at the Calhoun House, a frame house that is falling apart. This house, built in 1928, was quite modern. It had electricity, a hot water heater, running water and even an indoor bathroom.

I gave at least three tours inside the house. Some hikers were afraid to go into the house by themselves. “No, there are no ghosts,” I told a woman, “but there are a couple of bats hanging from the ceiling.

After the park acquired the Calhoun house along with the rest of the North Shore land from TVA, they used the house as a ranger station. But now they’re built a modern structure behind the house and the historic house is feeling the neglect.

Ken, our friendly captain, showed up on time. He had a huge cooler full of alcoholic drinks as well as sodas and water. What a lovely surprise. I would have killed for a hot cup of tea but that was not to be until I got to a Chinese buffet in Asheville.
With the side trips to the cemeteries, we walked 16 miles and still smiled. All in all, a great success.  

Driving the Smokies, looking for GPS points

by Danny Bernstein — last modified Aug 16, 2014 01:40 PM
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MST Clingmans Dome - 4

Yesterday I drove over 220 miles in and out of back roads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park but didn't hike one of these miles. On such a beautiful day, I was on a mission and in my car. Sad...

Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is writing a trail guide for the 1,000 miles MST across North Carolina. It will be first trail guide written by volunteers and owned by Friends of the MST. We have a capable professional editor at the helm, so the guide will be accurate and up-to-date. All sections will have the same format. I'm writing the first section in the mountains: Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob.

I've written the directions [turn left, turn right] and the other required sections. Only the GPS points for the parking areas remained. That was the job for yesterday.

If you look at the Smokies map, they still show the old route that starts at Clingmans Dome and ends at Mingus Mill. Now, the MST will go down Deep Creek but head for Smokemont campground, up Bradley Fork and Chasteen Creek and eventually end up on Straight Fork Road. From there, you walk to Pin Oak Gap and on Heintooga Rd. If you can't picture the route, get a map where those trails might be clearer.

FMSTdriveSocogapsign 05A.jpgI was using my car GPS.

First stop was Waterrock Knob, the end of my guide section. Motorcyclists were already in the parking lot, admiring the views. I must say that I just wrote down the points and moved on.

Going backwards, or west, I stopped at Soco Gap where I saw the sign above.

The piece of paper says NO EXIT.

What it means that you can hike the MST from Soco Gap but it won't take you to Waterrock Knob, at this time. The Carolina Mountain Club is still working on building the route to Waterrock Knob.  They're getting there. But for now, at some point, you will hit a trail under construction and then, just a forest.

Then up to Heintooga Road, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at every named overlook to get a GPS point. When I reached the one-way section, I had a choice. Do I drive the unmaintained road at 15 miles an hour or do I turn around and go through Cherokee and out Straight Fork Rd? I chose the latter, though Straight Fork Rd is just as unmaintained and no picnic to drive either. These minor park entrances are not on the tourist circuit.

Back through Cherokee, following the speed limit meticulously, I finally got to Oconaluftee Visitor Center. I went in to say hello to the rangers behind the desk, dropped off Friends of the MST pamphlets and signed copies of my books, being sold at the park bookstore.

Finally up to Clingmans Dome in the afternoon. The parking area was almost full. I visited the Clingmans Dome information station and went through the same routine as in OVC - hello, give them FMST pamphlets and sign. But here, I paused to admire the view. See above.

It was a slow drive down Newfound Gap Rd. A little way before Oconaluftee Visitor Center, an elk with a large rack of antlers, was just ambling in a field. There was a full-on elk jam, complete with visitors out of their car and getting too close to the elk. Others stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture and a volunteer in uniform trying to keep order.

But what was that male elk doing by himself? Why wasn't he working on getting his harem together? The rut--mating season--is starting and he's wasting time just parading for visitors. One possibility is that he's an geezer elk and past his prime.

Always something new in the Smokies, even if I didn't walk a mile. Watch for the MST instructions on the web in a little while.

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