Entries For: June 2009
I went to Roan Mountain to take pictures of goats and all I got is a picture of a dog.
From Carvers Gap, the Appalachian Trail climbs up close to Grassy Ridge and then turns left. If you continue right for a short while, you'll reach Grassy Ridge, where you can see the world in 2.5 miles.
You'll pass Round Bald, Engine Gap, and Jane Bald where if you're lucky you may see Gray's lily, a small red cup-shaped lily. On Sunday, we were lucky. The Gray's lily is globally rare but wasn't rare on Roan.
Julie of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy told me that I couldn't miss the goats - they were in between Engine Gap and Jane Bald. The fence was obvious and so were the two dogs that approached me.
We walked partway around the fence to look for goats but the dogs were very wary of us. They stared at us and Tish said what I was thinking. "I hope these dogs can't jump the fence". Finally, we spied a group of goats beyond the rhododendron thickets. They were munching happily but were not going to greet us.
Why was the Forest Service keeping these goats so protected? In Britain, goats and sheep just wander happily in the fields and scamper away when hikers cross their paths. Were they protecting goats from hikers - you know in case backpackers think they can roast a goat instead of eating freeze-dry food? Or were they protecting people from goats butting them?
The answer came to me the next day. Duh... This isn't Britain. There are bears and coyotes On Roan Mountain which may see goats as an unexpected protein treat.
The azalea and rhododendron blooms will hang on for a few more days but it's obvious that the height of the color is over. Hang in there until September for the blueberries.
Are you as upset as I am over Gov. Sanford's alibi for his affair? I really don't care about his sex life; that's between him and his close ones. I'm concerned that he used the Appalachian Trail, as an excuse.
When you go backpacking, you don't just throw a few things in the back of the car. You buy food and fuel. You pack your backpack. You retrieve maps and guidebooks. No matter how experienced you are, you spend time and effort planning the trip. And oh yes, you do write down where you're going.
Before the whole story came out, the newspapers said that he had been on the trail but never really analysed the situation. The A.T. is a linear trail; how did he get back to his car? I thought the whole thing was farfetched.
So why am I so upset? Because many people who don't hike think that going into the woods is a very suspicious thing to do in the first place. They don't understand why I'd want to walk, sweat and sleep on the ground. Now they might have another excuse to snicker.
Are you tired of hearing about the Elk Bugle Corp? I'm just getting started.
My first two visitor contacts this past Tuesday were in the bathroom at the Cataloochee campground. "I need to know how to get to Little Cataloochee," a woman asked. I told her, "six miles on the road. Park and then it's a 6-mile walk round trip to see all the attractions." She seemed pleased.
"Don't give them too much information," Pat, our shift leader, said. "If they want to know where the bathrooms are, you don't need to tell them about the life of Thomas Crapper, the plumber who invented the modern toilet."
I took two antlers, this time, and I drove out into the Cataloochee Valley. My first group wanted each and every family photographed with two antlers coming out of their heads. These are very heavy, so the picture consists of a child in front with a parent holding up the antlers in the back.
As of Tuesday (June 16), we had 100 elk, including 10 calves. According to Joe Yarkovich, the Elk Management biologist, many more births are expected. Several visitors had seen elk in the shadows, at the edges of the forest. Some just park themselves with binoculars and wait. It may be that I'll be the only person who hasn't seen elk on Tuesday afternoon.
But after you talk to folks for just a short while, you realize that they want to know more than elk behavior. They are fascinated about the history of Cataloochee. So I show them a few photos of the Woody House and the elk pen on Big Fork Ridge Trail. I encourage them to walk to the Woody House.
At the Woody House, I met two summer interns from University of Tennessee in Knoxville who are studying how the hemlock wooly adelgid is affecting the bird population. The hemlock in Cataloochee seem particularly affected; some places on the Caldwell Fork hike seem like a hemlock graveyard.
I realize that if I walk to the Woody House and then to campsite #40 each week, I'll see the changes in the seasons. Tucked away behind a log, I saw a couple of spring beauties - really late bloomers. Also toothworts, cinquefoil and the mountain laurel still in bloom.
As I parked by the World Headquarters, I noticed a young couple, obviously very confused as to where the ranger station was. They were visiting from Belgium and had several questions about backpacking. They seemed quite prepared and had the right equipment so I encouraged them to get into the backcountry the next day.
43 visitor contacts.
The drive from Cherokee to Highlands took me through the Cullasaja Gorge on NC28/US64. Yes, it was gorgeous but so narrow and curvy, it took all my energy to just stay on the road safely. I passed the construction to the Dry Falls parking area - construction which had been going on when I was hiking and writing Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage.
When I got close to Highlands, the road straightened out enough so I could admire Bridal Veil Falls.
I gave a short course on North Carolina's Hiking Heritage for the Center for Life Enrichment, a continuing education program which offers short courses. About 15 people came to the lecture and discussion in the morning and 10 on the hike.
We climbed down Glen Falls and checked out four overlooks. As usual, the parking lot was crowded but not the trail. Most tourists gave up after the first two overlooks. After, a few of us explored the trail to Chinquapin Mountain. We didn't go all the way up but just crisscrossed the stream.
Finally, and just as memorable, one active hiker took me to Sweet Treats in Highlands. The frozen yogurt and raspberry combination I had was unforgettable.
This past weekend, I was in Galax, Virginia as part of the String and Leaf Festival. Chapters Bookshop, the independent bookstore in the area, had a book fair. Over 30 authors participated, most from small publishers like mine or self-published.
Galax is a small, one main street, town (6,900 people) in the center of the Blue Grass and traditional mountain music history. Sure enough, it is close to the Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 213. I stopped there to look at the various pictures and records of the mountain musicians from the 1920s on.
On Friday evening, I went to the Rex Theater, an old movie theater that was saved by turning it into a multi-purpose theater. Friday nights are music nights and people lined up quickly as soon as the box office opened at 5 P.M. Then we were allowed to save a seat and come back at 8 P.M. Wayne Henderson on the guitar and Jeff Little on the piano were featured. They are famous in mountain music circles - the fact that I hadn't heard of them doesn't mean anything.
I also walked in Cumberland Knob Park on the Parkway. Cumberland Knob, in North Carolina near the Virginia border, was the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1935. So the Parkway is going to celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
No pictures in this blog entry - sorry. I didn't take my camera.
I almost quit the Elk Bugle Corp because I just couldn't deal with the electric car and being tossed around. But Mark LaShell, the Cataloochee Ranger who's in charge of the EBC, said that I didn't need to be in the car - just roam around on foot. What a great idea!
I went to the Worlds Headquarters, the small building next to the Ranger Station and picked up one elk antler and drove down the valley.
My first stop was the Palmer Chapel. Nobody there so I drove to the Pretty Hollow Trailhead where 12 people from a Senior Center were having a picnic. They chose this spot because of the Porto Johns. I don't think the residents got much our of the elk discussion but the staff were very interested.
I then drove to the Caldwell House where most of my visitor contacts were. Visitor Contacts is the metric of the success of this program. How many people do you actually talk to? Both children and their parents were fascinated by the antler. Several told me that they had seen an Momma elk and calf in the valley. I didn't see anything, though I kept looking.
Children from two families were playing in the stream in front of the Caldwell house but they came running when I got out the antler.
Then I drove to the end of the valley and encouraged a large family group to walk to the Woody House. They all had sneakers on so the two-mile round trip was no big deal. I showed them historic pictures of the Woody House. Everyone I met was fascinated by the historic Cataloochee pictures.
I walked to the Woody House and met several other people. No, I didn't carry the antlers, just talked to them.
We now have seven calves, most of them females. Females are prized here because they can produce heirs. This is probably the only society and situation where girls are considered more desirable than boys.
So I think this is going to work. I had 48 visitor contacts. The family traveling the farthest were from Houston and the closest were from Sylva.
On Tuesday, I donned my brown pants and belt, checked that I had the proper boots and drove to Cataloochee in the Smokies to start my first day with the Elk Bugle Corp. I had read Wild about Elk and all the other materials I was given and I was ready. I was pumped, as they say.
I met the crew chief on my shift, Pat, the only experienced one and two other guys, Mark and Paul, also newbies. I got my NPS volunteer hat and shirt and got into the e-car.
The electric car, more like a golf car, was light and fun to drive. However, we spent almost four hours in it. I was jostled especially on dirt roads to and from the Palmer House and I knew that my back and neck were going to hurt. We stopped to talk to visitors and that was very rewarding but I knew that this job was not for me. As the lightest person in the car, I was bounced around too much. Sure enough, I had neck and back problems for the next couple of days.
During the training, we concentrated on learning about elk and I thought that most of the time, I'd be walking or standing talking to people. So I reluctantly quit after the first day; I am really disappointed since the other folks were so interesting. Now I'm waiting to see if I can get assigned to another volunteer job in the Smokies. I really don't want to turn in that NPS volunteer shirt.
I have a picture of me in my uniform but I'm not putting on the web until I have another job. Stay tuned!
Could the Twentymile entrance into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park be the most remote area in the Smokies? West of Fontana Dam, it's off the Dragon's Tail.
This past weekend, Lenny, in his quest for new Smokies miles, and I placed one car at Fontana Dam (the end car) and the starting car at Twentymile Ranger Station. We zigzagged up Twentymile, Wolf Ridge, Twentymile Loop Trail and Twentymile again to the A.T. That last one was steep, the longest sustained climb of the day.
Then our first reward - a long downhill on Lost Cove Trail. The stream was really running and my boots were wet from about half-way down. But look at that photo above. I feel wet boots were really worth it. By the last stream crossing on the way to Lakeshore Trail, I didn't even pay attention to the water.
Then our second reward - the cars on Lake Shore Trail. I've done this stretch of trail several times and I stop and pause each time to take pictures of the old cars. This is North Shore Road country. The cars are left over from when residents had to sell out and leave the area in 1943. TVA came in, created Fontana Dam and flooded NC 288. When you see the cars, you're walking on the old NC 288.