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Camping in the Smokies – Part 2

September 26, 2011

As we headed for Cades Cove the sun began to shine and we began to warm up. The road along the Little River was beautiful with the sun sparkling on the surface. Randy imagined he was planning to go down the river in a kayak, and “read” the route he would take. He has loved that park for a long time – since he was three years old and hiked up to the Chimney Tops on a previous family trip. Something new in the park we noticed were signs for “Quiet Walkways”. These walkways were numerous, parking available, and they provided an easy opportunity for people to get into the woods to “experience nature”. They were short trails, mostly level, and a real brainstorm of someone’s to encourage people to get out of their cars.

We arrived in Cades Cove and found a nice campsite. Cades Cove is even today one of the most popular campgrounds in our national parks, and the 11-mile one-way auto drive around the historic cove has lots of wildlife viewing adding to the attraction. Our campsite came complete with a huge stack of logs, as the park service had recently cut down some dead white pine trees and left the logs around for campers to use. So, we made camp, started a fire and toasted hot dogs for lunch. We drove around the cove, walked on some trails, took pictures of many deer, and tried to sneak up on groundhogs. Cades Cove is such a scenic place, open and grassy, ringed by forest and mountain ridges, and at that time there were still a few settler families that lived and farmed and had cattle there. Those families aren’t there any longer, but the old log cabins and farm buildings remain as historic demonstration sites.

We got home at dark, stoked the campfire, and decided on beef stew for dinner. It was delicious – good old Dinty Moore. It is true – things that you would never eat at home taste delicious when you’re camping! We had been warned about skunks and sure enough, several visited our campsite that night. They waddled around the campfire and our camp chairs – with us in them – and sniffed for leavings they could nibble on. They were Striped Skunks, and we could tell that each one was individually marked. Some had more white or black than the others, all with tiny black eyes, nose, and even tinier ears. They seemed to have a rolling gait as they ambled around us, since their legs are only about an inch or two long and they were fairly plump – from all those camper snacks. And they totally ignored us, obviously used to campers being in their territory, but we sat very still. It was not quite as cold, and there was a full moon to watch and even a few stars. Randy beat me to bed, the fire died down, and so did I.

Up early as usual and had a lovely breakfast of country ham and eggs and toasted bread. We decided to spend another night, so drove out again on the cove loop road, this time to take a hike to Abrams Falls. Abrams Creek meanders down through Cades Cove to the west, and eventually wends its way several miles later out of the park. We hiked about 2 1/2 miles to the falls, and along the way I finally identified a mystery bird song I’d been hearing – a Black and White Warbler. I also heard Black-throated Green Warblers and several Tufted Titmice, and watched a Blue-headed Vireo collect nesting material. I decided the hawk I had seen was a Broad-winged Hawk, and since learned it is common in that area. Randy spotted a shrew running frantically back and forth from a small hole to a place under some leaves. Frantically is their normal speed – they have a very fast metabolism – so have to eat a lot and often – usually meat! They are voracious and frequently dive under water to get food – amazing creatures.

Randy climbed up to the falls, which are about 20 feet tall – not dramatically high, but beautiful all the same. I sat in the sun on the warm rocks below and watched a frenzy of water boatmen in a still pool nearby, and snails making trails in the silt on the bottom. The creek and the falls made their watery noises, and we enjoyed our great lunch of cheese, crackers, apples and beef jerky. On the way back to the trailhead, we kept meeting people who said, “Was it worth it?” I just rolled my eyes. If I said it wasn’t, would they have turned back? I’m always reminded of the conundrum – which is more important – the journey or the destination? People miss so much just getting to their destination.

The next day we drove back to Gatlinburg and more pancakes, then headed back south across the mountains toward Cherokee, and on to the Nantahala River west of Bryson City where we watched canoers and kayakers splashing their way down the river. A few years later a trip down the Nantahala in a raft would become an annual event for our family reunions and great fun!

We drove through Franklin, N.C. and down through Sumter National Forest across the northeast corner of Georgia, crossing another piece of the Bartram Trail on beautiful country roads, ending the day at a place with showers and hot water – a Holiday Inn! We were just as glad to be inside since we had been hearing severe storm and flash flood warnings on the radio all day. In fact, the next day as I pulled off the side of the road to read a historical marker, I slid the camper on a patch of wet, red, Georgia clay down into a shallow ditch. Fortunately, a farmer on a tractor came along, hooked up a chain, and pulled us right out. Another fine example of the kindness of strangers – in the middle of nowhere of course. And I never did get to read that historical marker. Thanks for sharing a nice trip, Randy.

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