Entries For: September 2009
I'm in Athens, Ohio (southern Ohio, close to the West Virginia border) playing grandma for a week. The town is very flat though there are surrounding hills. This area is considered the northern/western tip of the Southern Appalachians - Appalachian Ohio.
There is a bicycle path which follows the Hocking River - fine for cycling but not much exercise if you're walking. So I'm going to the Athens Community Center gym for an hour. There's never a good excuse for not exercising. It's such a small town that I already know people there after two sessions.
The Hocking Hills area has Old Man's Cave and other unusual features. It was also the home of Grandma Gatewood, the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.
I went to Gatlinburg on Wednesday to do a story on winter gear. I checked out Smoky Mountain Outfitters, a serious store in Winery Square. Then I went home through the Smokies and drove on U.S. 441 with thousands of tourists. They were stopping and gawking at the great mountain views. Yes, I was in a hurry to get home and deal with my article but I know that I live here while most tourists live someplace else.
I took the Blue Ridge Parkway home because it's faster than going through Cherokee in the middle of the day. But I had to stop for this view above. This was at Bunches Bald Overlook elevation 4,925 ft. An outstanding late summer, fall view. At that elevation, leaves were already turning though not the peak - that's for sure.
I can't let myself become jaded. You know, seen this, done that. I really think I'm seeing these views for the first time. It is all so different, based on the time of day, time of year, weather and what I bring to it.
Today, elk #16 is no longer the man! If you're coming in cold, this is the drama that's going on now in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side. The elk are in their full rut (mating season).
On Monday, elk #67 (pictured above) stole all the cows away from #16. I missed that since my shift is on Tuesday but the Elk Bugle Corp (EBC) message board was all a buzz about it. #16 is larger than #67, so why did this happen?
There was more drama when I got there the next day. Elk #67 rounded up all his cows in the field next to the Caldwell house barn. I watched as #16 slinked back in the woods by himself. I had to watch the visitors as well but they were so thrilled to see this that no one ran out in the field. There already was a traffic jam on the dirt road toward the end of the valley so I asked everyone who came to park and watch. Some visitors were eager to drive to the end and walk to the Woody House, including me. Finally, all the elk left and I walked to the Woody House.
I met several visitors on the trail and told them to make sure to see the bats. Once at the house, I usually walk around and check if any window panes are broken or any other repairs need to be made. I was so busy looking at the house that I almost stepped on a snake (above).
When I got back to my car and the Caldwell House, the drama continued. #16 came back with a couple of cows. By now, #67 had taken all his cows on the other side of the road. People were watching on the Caldwell House bridge, though Pat, another volunteer, thought that was not a good idea since the bull elk could charge at any moment. The cows with #16 did not stay with him long. One was nursing her calf and then bolted across the road. The other followed. I assume that #16 has lost all his women now.
This is like Peyton Place and all the cliches that we use for humans are true here:
Following the herd
Young buck (shown above)
The biggest and most powerful male attracts all the girls....
I wrote about #16 for my writing class and read a few sentences about it aloud. Everyone thought I was writing fiction. No one realized that they could have a ring side seat to this free show in our national park.
The drama continues ...
Ken Burns' upcoming documentary may be the most hyped production I've ever seen. His documentary will be shown on PBS starting on Sunday, Sept. 27. The program is supposed to concentrate on history, like the building above at Rich Mountain Gap - not an easy place to find.
However he can be forgiven because the documentary includes about 45 minutes about the Smokies. This past Sunday in the USA Weekend magazine, the lead article was on 10 parks you don't want to miss.
Yes, he had Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. But he also had all the "big" eastern parks including
I do hope that his documentary will get people excited about visiting their national park. Much cheaper than Disneyworld.
This is not a blog post with pretty pictures. It's all about the challenges on my section of the Appalachian Trail - from Rice Gap to Devils Fork Gap on the border of NC and TN.
After complaining about the cut on my section of the A.T., Julie of the A.T.C. decided she needed to see the section for herself. She leads the Open View committee for the Deep South, which decides which open views should be created.
My section from Rice Gap to Devils Fork Gap was cut in two places: Pete Creek and further up, which I always called Frozen Knob. Julie invited Joe McGuiness, the wildlife biologist from the Cherokee National Forest. Joe actually plans how the cuts are supposed to be accomplished.
Our first stop was of a new clearing, shown above. "Where did this come from?", I asked. None of us had any idea but the best guess was that someone had camped there for a while, killing all the vegetation.
"But people are not supposed to camp so close to the trail," I said naively. Well, yes, that's the A.T. rule but in fact, the landowner is the Cherokee National Forest. In a national forest, people can camp anywhere. Since ATC has no enforcement power, any subsequent rules they make depends on education and voluntary compliance.
I quit complaining about the stove and white cabinets that are on the trail (shown above), left over from when people lived in the cabins. The cabins have been taken down but the white goods stayed.
We continued up the trail to Pete Creek, the first place they cut. That's when I got the full story from Joe, the biologist.
The ATC may have thought they were creating views but Joe is creating open areas for wildlife management. It's not easy to find the U.S. Forest Service website that explains it all and clearly. Basically, the Forest Service removes growth and keeps certain places open to encourage wildlife. My section of the A.T. was pasture land for a long time. So it's a good place to reopen and encourage birds that like open land.
Max Patch and Big Bald are famous areas that the Forest Service keeps open by mowing. Everyone loves these places because you can see forever. The two cuts on my A.T. section are not famous or as attractive but the birds won't know that.
Joe said that you can't mow these cuts because the land is too steep. So how do you clear them? Slash and burn and herbicide. It doesn't sound very good, does it? Just like people don't really want to know exactly how the beef in their hamburger gets there, sightseers and hikers don't really ask how they're able to enjoy these wonderful views. Slash and burn - that's what settlers were doing to the Southern Appalachians when they moved here in the 18th Century. That's how you clear land.
I showed my two companions the invasives that have moved in - dodder, morning glories and smartweeds (shown here).
But they were not too concerned. Those plants are not that invasives since you don't see them in the forest, do you?
The burn is scheduled for November. Stay tuned.
The visitors may have slowed down but not the elk. The elk are now in the middle of the rut season. One bull can control many cows, so it's not that good for the other, less dominant bulls.
Bull elk are not the only ones trying to be dominant. I got to the EBC World Headquarters to find my three shift mates already there. The e-car is back and the couple had taken it with all the elk goodies. Pat used his truck and had taken the large antlers that I usually use - #2 from 2008 - so I was left with some puny antlers, maybe from a yearling. Not much to show folks.
Yet, at this time, it's not a good idea to even play with antlers if bulls are around. They don't want any competition. One Park worker had a close call when he was in a field with bulls.
Since there were few people, I walked to the Dock Caldwell Cemetery.
Like the Hiram Caldwell Cemetery, the walk was very short but steep. Both are small family cemeteries, much smaller than the Palmer Cemetery opposite the Palmer Chapel.
Dock Caldwell Cemetery was fenced in but you can open the fence and go in. It is obviously not visited much, but it is certainly well-tended. There's a sign on the road and a parking spot.
I also learned the fishing regulations for the park.
Now this may sound boring but I find it very interesting. Besides, it's part of my job. As Ranger Mark said in our training, "If you get the same question from visitors more than once, it's time to find the answer."
As I drove back close to the end of my shift, the elk came out. They've been in the same field all the time. Even though I had binoculars, I couldn't see the bull's tag number.
Don't let this picture fool you. The big bull is about to run off the younger elk. Also, I took this picture from quite far away. I used my full zoom and then cropped. You need to be at least 50 yards away.
I talked to 27 people, including a couple from Amsterdam.
Yesterday, Lenny and I scouted his Bent Creek hike that he is leading for the Carolina Mountain Club. It's September so the vegetation is high and so is the potential for yellow jackets.
I am very concerned about yellow jackets. When people talk about bears or snakes, I allay their fears. "When you deal with a bear or a snake, it's a one-to-one confrontation. You have a chance. With yellow jackets, it's you against their whole gang."
So I am a sucker for anything that may keep them away. I spray myself with insect repellent. You're concerned about Deet, you say? It's not the best thing for your skin but I say "bring it on".
I watch holes on the trail. Yellow jackets nest in the ground and I don't want to disturb them with my walking stick.
If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see a white something in the middle of Lenny's pack. It's our new yellow jacket protection. I read that fabric softener sheets keep insects away and that the US Postal Service recommends it for their mail carrier. That's good enough for me.
So now, I put one in my pocket, one in my shorts belt loop and one on my pack. Does it work? I'm not really looking for scientific proof. With a sample size of one - me - I won't experiment.
Which brings me to the banana - an old joke.
A man is sitting with a banana in his ear.
His friend comes over and says "Why do you have a banana in your ear?"
"To keep the elephants away."
"That's ridiculous," his friend says. "There isn't an elephant for thousands of miles."
The guy with the banana in his ear says "You see how well it's working."
Besides worrying about yellow jackets, I did see some better signs of wildlife.
It was the time for turtles.
First, a turtle on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Then lots of turtle heads.
This is one unhappy bull elk.
To put it delicately, he is also one very lonely elk.
I walked to the Caldwell House, crossed the bridge to the house and there he was - in the field beside the house. He was bugling away and drawing a crowd of visitors.
One man with a camera lens as long as his arm ran almost toward the elk. The elk then crossed the stream - no, he didn't use the bridge and walked down the road. I had to tell this fellow to back off. I got everyone behind their cars as the elk strutted by and into the field on the barn side.
It was a wonderful site for the visitors and me but unfortunately, the elk was still without female elk company. He kept bugling as he walked back into the woods. Only then did I feel comfortable leaving the area.
While at the Caldwell House before the elk excitement, I met two couples from Knoxville. It was a brother and sister in their seventies and their respective spouses. The brother and sister were dam kids. Their father worked for TVA and went from dam to dam. His first was Norris Dam and eventually, got to Fontana Dam. They spent much of their elementary school years at Fontana Village. I assured them that the cottages now had probably not been renovated since they lived there during WWII.
I did my usual tour of the Woody House and campsite 40. Upstairs at the Woody House, there were bats hanging from the ceiling.
This was the first time I noticed them. There's always something new.
Every once in a while, even I leave the Smokies.
So I drove over 350 miles to Mammoth Cave National Park, one of the places on my top ten places to see - or my bucket list, depending on how you want to look at it.
Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world - over 350 miles of tunnels have been discovered. You can only go into the caves on a tour run by rangers and there are over ten tours.
Neil, my son, and I went on the Grand Ave. Tour, the longest walking tour you can do (4.5 miles, four hours).
Mammoth Cave was a tourist attraction by 1816; some say it is the second oldest tourist after Niagara Falls. The Caves were an important source of saltpeter, needed for gunpowder, in the War of 1812. The price of saltpeter rose and many men came to find their fortune in digging it up.
When the war ended, the need declined; hence the expression petered out. By then, many had heard of Mammouth Caves and toured the caves. In 1925, a famous caver, Floyd Collins, was trapped in the cave for days. The caves drew national attention and talk started about the area becoming a national park. It did in 1941. The park is about a tenth the size of the Smokies and has about 60 miles of backcountry trail.
We walked some of the trails; easy, wooded with few views. The picture is of the Green River from an overlook.
The next day, we kayaked on the Green River with Kentucky River Runners. I am not an experienced boater at all. All I can do is follow instructions. There were three guides for nine guests.
These guides were great; basically one leader in front, one as a sweep and one in the middle.
They showed us how to paddle and how to get in and out of the boat without tipping.
OK, so the river was almost as smooth as glass with very few ripples. So we had time to actually look at our beautiful surroundings rather than just handle the rapids.
That's me in the kayak above and Neil and me on one of our island stops.
We stopped twice on islands to eat, rest and on one occasion float on our backs.
But what is this picture above? Well, one of the guys locked his car keys in his SUV and several of our National Park Service's finest came to break into his car. Calling AAA would have taken too long.
The guides took pictures of our trip and I'll link to them as soon as they post them.
Rob, one of the guides, talked about starting a Mammoth Cave 60, for those who hiked all the trails in the park, like a Smokies 900. I think it's a great idea. If he does start an official club, I may go back down for a week and do all the trails.
Yes, this is Dolly Parton at Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On Sept. 2, 1940, Pres. Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; he was the first and only sitting president to visit the Smokies.
On Sept. 2, 2009, 75 years later, the park was rededicated with a commemorative ceremony at Newfound Gap. This was the crowning event of a year busy with celebrations.
Newfound Gap Road was closed for two days.
Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, Master of Ceremony, welcomed everyone “to your national park. It is a time to rejoice but also a time to remember all those who had to leave their home to make way for the National Park.” It was the first time that all congressional delegates that represented the Smokies were in the park at the same time.
Rep. Heath Shuler pointed out that “people come here because of the beauty of the park but stay here because of the people.” He then introduced the descendants of Horace Kephart, who settled in Bryson City and wrote many articles advocating for the park.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen said that “the Smokies were a gift of the people to the Government, not from the government to the people." Congress authorized the national Park in 1926 but it took until 1934 for North Carolina and Tennessee to raise the money to buy the land and another six years for FDR to come to the Smokies. The chair where he sat was displayed on the podium.
Dan Wenk, Acting Director of the National Park Service, recognized community groups including Carolina Mountain Club and Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. He also welcomed ten Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) members, of the 4,000 men who had worked in the park.
I talked to Don Shoulders who worked in the Smokies from 1936 to 1939 and built a trail between Tremont and Elkmont. Before he joined the CCC, he had never had a job except working on his sister’s farm for nine dollars a month. When she couldn’t afford even that, he signed up.
Clarence Allison grew up in Haywood County. His school only went to the sixth grade. He hung around home until “I inflated my age a little and joined up in 1940.” He worked on roads, in the kitchen, whatever there was to do. He went straight from the CCC to the army in 1942.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, representing President Obama, pointed out that the Smokies is not only the most visited park in the nation but has the largest economic impact of all the national parks, bringing in $700 million last year.
Finally, Dolly Parton.
As 75th anniversary ambassador for the park, she wrote and released a CD which raised $200,000 for the park. The CD is only available in the park visitor centers and on Great Smoky Mountain Association website. She performed My Mountains, My Home, the lead song on her CD.
After her standing ovation, Dale Ditmanson said,”There are 391 units of the National Park System. Let them beat this!”
Dolly finished the program with Forever Home, another song from her CD. She then said thank ya'll for coming, but I don't know about ya'll but I need to V.I.Pee. She is funny.
The rangers in their spiffy summer uniforms were friendly and helpful; the buses taking us to Newfound Gap were fast and efficient; there were plenty of Port-o-Johns. And the weather was perfect.
I can’t wait for the 100th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The rut (mating season) has definitely started.
In the first field shown above, Elk No. 16 was surrounded by several females and their calves. It's a long photo shot because people are not supposed to get closer than 50 yards from elk.
Along with his females and calves, there were two male yearlings. You can tell they're young by the size of their antlers. But Elk No. 16 was not tolerating any competition. Here he is chasing off one of the young males. Poor thing! It will scar him for life.
There was a lot of elk action but few people. So besides going up to the Woody House and the campsite beyond, I went to the Hiram Caldwell Cemetery. I've noticed that sign for a long time and finally, it was quiet enough for me to go.
The trail went through the field and then up. It was very steep - no switchback on that trail. It's a small family cemetery; there were maybe 10 graves, including the usual stillborn infant.
Then, still not finding many people, I went to the Palmer House. The Palmer House, off on a side trail, has a small museum. It has the requisite pioneer farming tools but it also has old photographs of the families that lived in Cataloochee.
I met a couple who had driven down from Massachusetts. They were staying at Smokemont campground and were touring the valley. As we talked, three bulls came into the fields opposite the Palmer House. We took pictures through the window glass.
Finally I had to leave. I allowed myself a couple of quick shots before I got into my car.
Our Elk Bugle Corp has shifted to 12:30 to 4:30 P.M. and will continue to shift as the days get shorter.
Big rededication ceremony in the Smokies tomorrow. Stay tuned!