Smokies Trip 2013

Day 1 – Monday (4/15)

For various reasons we decided to leave Monday morning instead of after the Sunday POP meeting, and then drive through.  Left at 0720 and arrived at 1800 at the Pigeon Forge Krogers.  There was some roadwork in southern Kentucky that held us up a bit longer than we expected.  Also Larry almost merged into someone coming off the on ramp from I-74 to I-275.  Otherwise no problems.  Left under overcast skies and 60°, arrived under blue skies and 83°.  Already this is shaping up to be a different visit and throwing us off on how to dress for our hikes and what kind of lunch to pack.  No need for something hot to drink and eat.  Wildflowers we are hoping will be the main attraction during the hikes and this is how we plan to pick our trails.

Spent the evening enjoying the warmness, surfing on the iPad, watching the Reds beat the Phillies (thanks Jon – the Reds are blacked out in Knoxville believe it or not) and getting mentally adjusted watching a couple episodes from Red Green – the Infantile Years.  The 1991 episodes have his poetry readings and singing at the campfire with Harold – nearly too funny to laugh with.  Having no further ambition we went to bed at 2300.

Day 2 – Tuesday (4/16)

Fire Pink – Chestnut Ridge

Slept with a bedroom window open last night and awoke to the birds singing in the trees.  As usual set the alarm for 0700 and got up at 0730 – hey it’s a vacation.  Made the coffee, checked the weather, had morning prayer and had breakfast.  It is going to be sunny and around 80° today.  We picked the Chestnut Gap trail out of the Townsend Y today because it is supposed to be a prime wildflower trail, especially in the first ½ mile (which is a nice uphill climb).  We have done this trail before – last time it was so cold and windy we could hardy get the water the hot tea to boil up on one of the saddles.  today we broke a seat, and we really had to concentrate on not wearing too many clothes.  As it was Larry hiked in his t-shirt and zip-offs and Mary Ann in a polo shirt and long pants.  We still took the stove – couldn’t bear to part with it, and didn’t need it.  We made 3 miles up to the crest and a bit down the other side to Bryant’s Gap before eating lunch.  There were indeed copious wildflowers on the first uphill and this took extra time for pictures (I’ll have an album at the photo site soon).  At 65 the hardest part about wildflowers is getting down to their level for the photo and then back up again.  Hiking poles are very useful for this.  Met two other couples on the hike – one from Washington State who had a business in Alaska but was raised in Knoxville and the other from Wisconsin.  More folks here as winter turns to spring.  On the return trip to the cabin stopped for some sunscreen and then just sat on the bank of the Little River for awhile to recharge batteries – you know, Psalm 23.


Dinner was grilled venison steaks, Caesar salad and microwaved potatoes (what did we used to do when it took 45 minutes to “bake” a potato?).  This evening will be more of the same as yesterday.  Have to go through the wildflower photos from today and maybe post them to the website.


Day 3 – Wednesday (4/17)

Tail of the Dragon
“Tree of Shame”

We left the house under cloudy, rain-looking skies that were clearing in the west at about 0915.  It rained lightly early this morning.  Today we drove the Foothills Parkway around the west side of the park and stopped at Look Rock, hiked at Abrams Creek Campground and saw the Fontana Dam.  Look Rock is an old Cherokee landmark that now has an EPA weather station and an observation deck on it.  The observation deck has a web cam you can access online if you want – Mary Ann has been checking the weather from it getting ready for the trip.  It was a nice short uphill walk, sunny and with a nice breeze.  Took some pictures then attempted to drive the “short-cut” to Abrams Creek Campground.  First we went north instead of south, then drove way past the turn-off road because there was no sign for the Campground and because the roadsign (“Abrams Creek Road”) was not at the corner and not visible when traveling south through Happy Valley J.  This took up about 30 – 45 extra minutes.  Once at the Campground the hike was very nice.  Temperatures are still in the low 80’s.  Most of the walk was along Abrams Creek, but the extreme western end downstream of the falls that we have hiked to many times from Cades Cove.

We also learned the answer to the old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a noise?”  Yes and it scares the bejeezus out of you.  It was across the creek but none the less there were images of rampaging bears running through our minds.

After lunch by the creek and the return hike we continued south around the park to Fontana Dam via US 129.  This route was something new to us – a motorcycle Mecca because of its twists and turns – 318 curves in 11 miles; it is one continuous S-curve with ups and downs as well.  They call it the “Tail of the Dragon” or just “The Dragon”; some of the sharpest curves have names of their own.  Since this 11 mile stretch is also the southwest boundary of the park there is no development at all and thus no danger of anyone pulling out from a drive or side road, and hence no reason to, you got it, slow down.  It is an international destination for cyclists and sports car drivers,  We saw several companies staked out at curves taking pictures of those flying by for later resale.  The Jetta held its own as Mary Ann held on to her door handle.  We made the 11-mile return trip in 30 minutes.  The S-curves are banked, guard rails are absent; they warn you about the hairpin turns (10 mph posted) but after a while the S-curves weren’t even labeled.

Fontana Dam was the real destination for Larry, though.  This is where the Appalachian Trail enters the park from the south.  It crosses the Little Tennessee River on the dam.  The dam was impressive – 450’ tall, 2300’ long, with 2 giant tunnel overflow spillways.  Vertigo-City looking down into the spillways and over the top railing on the back of the dam to the river 450’ below.  Larry traced out the trail across the dam and partway up the park road on the north side.  So now we’ve been to both ends of it for the park.  We finally got home at 1915 and never were rained on.  Ate in tonight, watched baseball and worked on this Blog.

Day 4 – Thursday (4/18)

Mr. Snake crawls to safety after nearly being stepped on by Mary Ann

Today was a beautiful day – sunny, warm, breezy.  We went to Porter’s Creek in

Greenbrier – another wildflower extravaganza.  Forget that the trail was a constant uphill.  Seems that the locals are getting a jump on next weeks Pilgrimage – there was a busload at the Fern Branch Falls.  Larry started spouting off flower names and was gently corrected by a nice gal.  Larry thought we were on a different trail in his mind the whole time until we reached Campsite 31, the end of the trail, for lunch.  He was expecting a longer stretch.  This trail has the long, creepy foot log over Porter’s Creek.  Met a retired Air Force couple who decided to put roots down in Gatlinburg.  We had some things in common.  On the return trip Mary Ann nearly stepped on a 4’ black snake while looking at the cascading creek – Larry got a picture after it finished rearing its head.

We made a trip to the grocery and then to Lowe’s.  The Lowe’s trip was necessitated by Larry breaking off the shower plunger – it was sticking because of water scale and we couldn’t turn on the shower.  Fortunately, Lowe’s had an exact replacement that Larry installed in about 30 minutes.  There is an upstairs shower, but that was just not convenient, and once the plunger was busted it was too late to just report it and admit he broke it.  The trip to Lowe’s required driving all the way across Pigeon Forge at the height of its “Rod Run” hotrod swap meet; expected to attract 75,000 people into town.  The cavalcade of cars parked up one side and down the other of the main drag was really impressive – every muscle car and restored classic imaginable – but we’ll be steering clear of this for the rest of the weekend.  It will change our choices on where to eat out tomorrow.

Day 5 – Friday (4/19)

Rain day.  We’ve known this is coming for the past week, so we are right on plan to do the scrapbook today.  The rain began at maybe 0830 and we started the scrapbook at 030 or so.  The rain front has also brought with it more seasonably cooler temperatures, but they still feel good to us.  We just finished the scrapbook and it is quarter to 4.  And the rain has stopped and the sky is clearing in the west – good timing.

Tonight is eat-out-for-our-anniversary night.  We plan to go to Gatlinburg to avoid the Rod Run crowd in Pigeon Forge.  Going to Gatlinburg to avoid the crowd is in itself completely wacko, but these be strange times.

Today Larry fixed the gas log fireplace.  Mary Ann had been smelling gas very slightly.  He knew from prior experience here that the pilot light was probably blown out, which it was.  He decided to turn the whole thing off for the summer.  In the process he discovered that whoever had messed with it previously had not reinstalled the glass or lower vent properly, mainly because one of the posts holding the lower vent was missing and the other was loose.  The missing post as he suspected wasn’t missing just laying loose in a gap at the bottom of the fireplace.  So with it and the other properly tightened the gas fireplace is all the way it should be.  He also changed a burnt out light bulb in one of the dining area spotlights.  They should pay us to rent this place, really.

Part of our rain day was to celebrate our anniversary dinner out.  Since the Rod Run car show was in Pigeon Forge we opted to go to Gatlinburg and the Calhoun’s rib place there.  We go in through the Park the back way since Calhoun’s is on the Park end of town.  It was good, but only one kind of BBQ sauce.  Caught up on the capture of the second Boston Marathon bomber.  Then back into the Park, over Fighting Creek Gap, past the Laurel Falls parking, past Elkmont down to Metcalf Bottoms, across the Little River on the wooden bridge, up over the Greenbrier Ridge and out of the park on Lyon Springs Road and back home.

Until bedtime watched baseball, planned for tomorrow’s hike and snacked.  At some point we watched Abbott and Costello videos, including “Who’s on First?”.

Day 6 – Saturday (4/20)

The rain brought the cold front with it.  So we’ve gone from mid-80’s to mid-40’s.  There was an overnight frost in some places but we don’t think right here.  But the sky is clear and sunny. This morning’s hike was back to winter mode as we dressed down in long johns and layers, gloves and wool hats.  Larry had no gloves, but his wool ski cap and extra wool sweater took care of him.  Lunch was back to hot soup using the stove.  Since we mistakenly bought a Jake’s Creek patch last time without hiking it we figured we should hike it this year.  This is in the old Elkmont logging town area and follows one of the old railroad grades for the first 2 miles but after the creek crossing there it reverts to a typical uphill Smokies trail.  There were plentiful wildflowers – we shot Fraser sedge and Bishop’s hat.  This Fraser guy got around – Fraser fir, Fraser magnolia, Fraser sedge.  Trillium were everywhere.  What a joy.  They have moved the trailhead 0.4 miles back down the hill since last time we headed this way, so Campsite 27, our destination, was at 3 miles now, but we made it for lunch.  Larry marked the paces and kept our spirits up as we trudged steadily upward.  In hindsight we could have made the ridge and Jake’s Gap after lunch then returned but we wanted to get to Mass on time at 1600.  The day warmed up perfectly as we walked, so we were carrying clothes in the pack on the return trip.  We returned to the cabin after the hike.  Larry took a long nap and Mary Ann hit the iPad.  After Mass we had dinner in.  Larry grilled the raspberry chicken.  Then we caught up on the Red’s game that went 13 innings but was already done by then.  With MLB.TV we can watch the video of the whole game.  The rest of the evening was frittered away doing laundry, watching Red Green and then making our reservations in Cincinnati for the Reds-Cubs game on Monday (AAA ½ price day) and our motel room (using our points).

You’ll see a self portrait picture of us from the hike today at lunch using a nearby twin trunked tree.  Well after the picture the camera fell.  It worked fine until after the picture of Mary Ann doing the laundry and then it jammed up.  Now it won’t focus.  So tomorrow’s pictures will be by flip phone.  If we had gotten our smart phones before we left on the trip things would be better.  Larry is hoping that the camera is still under warranty.  We’ll see.

Day 7 – Sunday (4/21)

Tried to get an earlier start today to beat the crowds to Cades Cove, so the alarm was set for 0630.  We rolled out at 0645.  Another outstandingly beautiful day.  Our destination today is the Gregory Ridge Trail that starts from the Parson’s Branch Road near the Mill in Cades Cove.  There was no problem getting to the trailhead.  We were hiking by 0930 and already we could tell that the day was warmer than Saturday.  What a magnificent hike.  We made Campsite 12 at Mile 2 by 1030, which was way too early for lunch, so we just pushed on uphill and finally hit the top of the ridge at 3.2 miles by noon.  You had a choice – a chilly breeze in the sun, or no breeze and gnats in the sun.  We took the latter.  Not too bad, really.  It was another soup day.  The hike included a primitive foot log over Forge Creek –actually two sections of a large pine that had been cut coincidentally over the creek.  They were like 4’ in diameter but rounded on top.  We took a picture.  Mary Ann, ever nimble, just walked them.  Larry crawled one but walked the other.

Used the water filter to great advantage by filling up on water for the last mile of the upward hike at a side stream instead of carrying it all the way from the car.

Part of the hike was through some uncut forest – really, really large tulip poplar, white pine and oak.  The loggers never made it in this far.

From the trailhead after the hike we drove the Parson Branch Road.  The sign read “Travel At Your Own Risk”.  This road is closed in winter but it opened just before we got here (April 11).  The F250 would have been a better choice than the Jetta, but since I am writing this you can guess that we made it.  It was gravel with a minimum of chuck holes.  We drug bottom only once slightly, but there were a few tense moments waiting for a protruding rock to scrape the engine pan that never happened.  The high point of the 8-mile, one-way forest road was 17, yes 17, creek crossings.  And we are not talking on bridges, there were 3 of those as well.  These were paved (thankfully) spill ways – low water crossings as it were.  At first they were novel, then it dawned on Larry that we were following the stream downhill and the crossings were getting deeper because the stream was growing bigger.  By the last one the water was as deep as the Jetta’s ground clearance and it was moving fast.  This is in light of Mary Ann just having read about the unfortunate fella in Kokomo earlier in the week who drowned when his car was swept off the road trying to cross a flooded road.  We were glad to find that the last three crossings were on bridges because Parson Branch Creek by then was roaring.

So then out of the woods at the end of the Parson Branch Road and into…….the middle of the Dragon’s Tail.  Woohoo.  Our third run of the Dragon.  We were greeted by two racing cycles making the hairpin turn where the forest road enters, one behind the other laying into that curve with their inside knees nearly scraping the road surface.  Larry did his best to fit in, and we of course had our picture taken by Killboy’s – they shoot every vehicle and then will sell you the photo from their website.  You just have to remember the day you passed by.  Here we are on the 17th – all 6 photos:  Pretty cool!  Click on them to enlarge.

Meanwhile back at the cabin it’s pack up for tomorrow.  We stay in Cincy overnight for the ballgame.  We haven’t played any of the board games we brought.  You can blame it on Larry’s subscription to the televised games and to Mary Ann’s iPad.

Day 8 – Monday (4/22)

We didn’t have to get up and leave super early because the only commitment we had was getting to the Red’s game at 1910 (7:10), and we couldn’t really check in to the motel until after 1500 (3:00).  We were still on the road at about 0845.  At lunch time we were somewhere near the Renfro Valley exit looking for a picnic spot.  We got off to go to the James Whitley historic site, but without our AAA tour guide handy we got off at New London and started following the signs.  It turned out to be further than just off the road, so we ended up going on the local roads down to the next exit which was for Renfro Valley and eating at a picnic table outside the Renfro Valley Barn Dance music hall there.  It was a gorgeous day.  After that we sped on to the Comfort Inn on I-275 near the airport and got settled in.  With time on his hands Larry decided to look quickly for an iPad app for keeping score and sure enough found one and downloaded it to Mary Ann’s iPad.

We left in plenty of time for dinner at Skyline and the game, but spent a good 30 minutes driving around basically the same block trying to find the parking garage that we use when we go with Nate.  That was rather fruitless so we ended up in the Chiquita Building garage for $5 (5th and Main) only one block up and over from Skyline.  We had researched if they had the chili without spaghetti before we left the motel and learned that Skyline has ”Chili Bowls” – 3, 4 or 5-Ways without spaghetti – learn somethin’ new every day.  Could have eaten two apiece (well maybe Larry could have).  We got to the game for part of batting practice and our seats were down at field level just beyond 3rd base (Section 111).  And what a game it was.  The Reds won in 13 innings scoring 3 runs after the Cubs had scored 2 in the top of the inning.  Of the 18,000 in attendance we were part of the about 3,000 who stayed with the Cub fans to the bitter end.  We got back to the car at 2430 (30 minutes after midnight).  We were both wearing our long johns and had hats and plenty of layers, but the temp stayed just around 60° the whole time.  Note for future reference – don’t sit at field level where your line of sight is across an aisleway because you won’t be able to see half the game for the people constantly going back and forth from their seats.  One wonders why they buy tickets.  The scoring app worked great except Larry didn’t have time to learn how to substitute players later in the game.  So with that long of a game there were a bunch of pitchers and subs.  He will work on that soon and should be able to edit the score card to have a correct and complete record.  No foul balls, except for a screamer in section 110 next to us.  Some middle-aged guy reached up and caught it with his glove like he was in the game.  Got some souvenirs after the game – they were still open.

Day 9 – Monday (4/23)

Back to work day – have to be in SBend for Larry’s dentist appointment at 1330 (changed the time enroute).  Good weather, no traffic, no problem.  Home by 1230 and it was overcast and rainy.  We are already planning for next time – maybe in the fall.  Probably should have bought the place.