"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cataloochee Valley: Our Last Visit to Great Smoky Mountains NP

We're near the end of our stay here on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It feels like we got a good sense the park, from its intimate valleys, trails and streams to its grand views. 

Our last adventure into the park was to the Cataloochee Valley, on the east side.  It was a long drive to get there from Wears Valley Rd., making a large loop across the north side of the park, through Gatlinburg and Cosby, and then down the east side on Rt. I-40. From 40 there is a single lane winding dirt road up over a mountain and down into the Cataloochee Valley. We stopped at an overlook before making the descent. 

Like the other places in the park that I've posted about, some of the old buildings have been preserved and are open to explore. The first structure you encounter in the valley is the Will Messer barn.

Our next stop was the Palmer Chapel, but in the pull off we noticed this mass of male (yellow) and female (blue) eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies indulging in something that brought them to this spot by the hundreds. 

Then the Palmer Chapel:

Next stop, the Caldwell barn. 

Some ferns growing along the bottom of the barn door.

The stairs to the second story of the barn:

I don't know if this barn was designed to let the air flow through, or if it was once more airtight.  I have a feeling it was always like this, perhaps to store hay and allow it to dry out.

Across the stream was the Caldwell home, built in 1903. It was relatively new when the park was formed around it. 

I explored inside. It was really in pretty good shape and had a nice feeling to it. I'd live there. This bedroom was wallpapered with newsprint.

Looking down the staircase:

Another bedroom with a beautiful patina on the wood ceilings, walls and floor.

After touring the valley on the one road that leads in and back out, we stopped for a picnic lunch. Here's Ms. Subaru taking her lunch break in the shade too.  After lunch she drove us back through Maggie Valley, over Newfound Gap Rd. and home to Cove Mountain RV Park. She had a hard day.

Tomorrow we leave this area and head a bit farther north to Blountville, TN. This is the beginning of our three week trek to get to Massachusetts. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Can't Catch Up!: Too much fun and games in Tennessee

OMG, I am so behind in these posts about what we've been seeing and doing and taking pictures of, I don't know what to do. We've been on some great hikes and drives, contra danced three times and attended the Smoky Mountain Highland Games in Maryville, TN.  Plus I've been preparing for a class I'm teaching this summer and it's seriously cutting into my blogging time. Geez.  Where are my priorities?

The tornados in Oklahoma are heartbreaking. One thing I can do is share a few photographic highlights that touch my heart and hope they will help all of our hearts heal.


Ranger Jones loves his job, guiding wildflower walks, waxing poetic about the blossoms of the tulip tree and helping everyone on the walk love the plants in his park.

Here are a few I love.  A birdsfoot violet...

and a rare pink lady slipper:

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has preserved a few of the homesteads its many previous residents had to leave when the park was created.  The five Walker sisters were allowed to stay in their home until they died. The last Walker sister left the homestead in 1963.  Their home still stands and can be visited via a dirt road and a short hike. It has no locks, no guards, no barriers, no entrance fee. Just simple sweetness everywhere you look, especially in the places they walked or touched innumerable times every day over the years.

A rustic shutter...

The barn door latch...

The front door to their cabin...

The spring house...

The path from the spring house to the cabin...

Smoky Mountain Highland Games, Maryville, TN

It was a rainy, muddy weekend for the Games, but the dancers, musicians, vendors, clan members, sheep dogs and athletes put their hearts into it, even with very few paying attendees and audience members. Men and women competed in various "heavy events," including throwing weights on chains as far or as high as they could.

You've gotta love these big teddy bears in kilts.

The feats of strength include the women as well. This was the first time any of the women contestants had tossed the caber.  First they all tested its weight - all 80 top-heavy pounds of it.

Then they each gave their all to lift the wobbly thing vertically off the ground and toss it high enough to flip it over.  Miraculous efforts.

Perhaps the most moving of all the events is the ritual "massed bands" at the beginning and the end of the games. Despite thunder, lightning, and threatening rain, the pipes and drums ceremoniously gathered to close out the day with their glorious sound.

“Love doesna always mean burning flashes o' passion.
 Sometimes, it's jus' the warmth o' yer hearts
 as they beat yer day together." 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Knoxville, TN Contra Dance

We found a contra dance in Knoxville! We've been twice already and we think it's a good dance. That means a few things. First, there's good live music. Second, there are good callers. And third, there are enough experienced dancers to get the dance moving. Most contra dances are very welcoming to new-comers, as they want their dance community to grow. However, if there isn't a critical mass of experienced dancers, the dances flounder, or have no flow. So this little community dance has all three. Lucky us.

It also has a unique, but not unheard of feature of a balcony above the dance hall, so I was able to take some cool photos.  I've been experimenting with shutter speed to get that blurred look in waterfalls (more of that soon), so I tried the same setting on dancers.  I like the effect; it captures the sense of movement, which is what it's all about.

The dance hall is an old church.  I think it also serves as a community theatre. Here you can see the old stained glass windows at the end of the hall. Usually the band would be there, but in this case they are on the stage at the side. You get used to it. The couples are doing a do-si-do here. As you can see, contra dances are casual affairs. No fancy outfits needed.

The band, Attic Rattlers, had a more traditional southern Appalachian flavor than we usually hear at contra dances, and we both liked it a lot. They were very lively.

Here are a few shots of Rick dancing. He's the blur in the red T-shirt. The couple standing against the wall is "out." You know how square dances progress around and around the square? In contra dance, couples progress down the line, or the hall, until they get to the end, then they are out for one round of the dance  (64 counts) until the next couple is out. They are watching two couples circle "hands four" to the left - a typical figure.

Here Rick is swinging his partner.  Swinging is what most folks consider the high point of the dance.  The etiquette is to change partners after each dance. But within the dance as well, you are constantly dancing with other partners for a figure or two, like" swing your neighbor." So all the dances are essentially mixers - a real plus for meeting people and building community. 

We'll have one more Monday night at the Knoxville dance before we leave, after Memorial Day weekend.  In addition to dancing, we've had a few hikes and a very special drive that I'll be posting about soon.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains: Cades Cove

Cades Cove is the most popular area of this National Park and I have been excited about visiting it since before we got here.  It is simply an agricultural and residential valley that was saved from further development in 1934 when the Park was established. The Park has done a respectable job of honoring the stories of the people who settled this valley and were sadly forced to leave at that time.  Since then, millions upon millions of people have passed through their valley to appreciate its beauty and serenity. 

We began our visit by getting up before dawn to see the valley at sunrise, and before the crowds descended upon it.  It's about a half hour from where we are staying now.  It promised to be a clear day, but when we got to the Cove, it was completely fogged in.  About half way around the 11 mile scenic loop, the fog slowly began to lift.  The valley is a mix of fields and forests, with more open space than most of the Park.  Because of this, there is more opportunity to see wildlife - lots of deer mostly.

As in other places in the Park, homes and farm buildings are preserved in their original locations.

This is a traditional cantilever barn, a style imported from Europe, but used widely around here. This is one of the largest we've seen.

As the fog lifted, some lingered in the lower valleys.

This is a piece of an old unused road. At its population peak, the Cove had about 130 families living in it. So there must have been many roads networking between the homesteads, the mills, the fields and the churches. I think there are at least three church buildings preserved in the Cove. 

A wondrous moment...

We took the loop again, to see the first half that was foggy our first time around. The beginning of the loop is dominated by a wide open horse pasture, with maybe 50 horses of all kinds from the stables in the Cove.  Visitors can take guided rides through this part of the Park.

About half way through the loop, the Rich Mountain Road heads south toward Townsend, so we though we'd take it. It switched back and forth, up and then down the other side of Rich Mountain. 

"The bear went over the mountain...to see what he could see."

Well these two tiny guys spotted us as we headed down the other side of the mountain. We got a glimpse of mom crossing the road before the cubs scrambled fast up the tree. When they got about twenty feet up they paused for a moment, then at some signal from mom I guess, they just as quickly backed down and hid in the undergrowth below the road.  And I mean quick - like squirrels!  

We have learned that the bears in the Smoky Mts spend most of their time in the trees! Who knew? So now we look in the trees for the bears. Between Rick and me, we've seen three sets of cubs in trees, and in one case the mom was up there too, just sitting there with her legs hanging down and her three cubs safely up above her.  These little families are a perfect reminder of the universality of mothers' love.

Here's to Moms!

Wild geranium in the Smoky Mountains
Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Smoky Mountains: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

There are three towns immediately north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that house and entertain most of the people who visit the park: Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. All I can say is "Yikes!" We manage to successfully avoid them most of the time. But just outside of Gatlinburg is one of our favorite places in the Park, and unfortunately you have to drive right through downtown Gatlinburg, past "Ripley's Believe it or Not," about ten "flapjack" houses, and endless souvenir stores and hotels to get there. But it is absolutely worth it. It's called the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and it is one of the most lovely scenic drives we have ever been on anywhere.  

You would never guess that you're only about a mile from town. This unspoiled, six mile, narrow, winding, paved one-way road, lets you relax and enjoy the scenery without worrying about oncoming traffic.  For the second half of the drive you follow the Roaring Fork stream and much of the time it is in what I'd call a gorge, deep below the road. (No guard rails here to block the view!) The stream is just beautiful, and loud!

In several places along the road there are historical farms with log cabins and barns preserved by the Park, and trails through the woods to additional buildings and other parts of the farms. We poked around this one, which I believe is the Jim Bales Place. (The Park has retained the names of the families that lived there.) The first picture is of the home and traditional split rail fences that you see everywhere in the park.

And this is one of the barns, and another fence.

Along the roadside where we parked there were many kinds of forest wildflowers, but this tiny wild orchid was the best. 

Now, we liked our visit to Roaring Fork so much that we went back again! This time we hiked the nature trail around the Noah "Bud" Ogle Place. Here's one of several primitive bridges crossing the streams that are even more numerous than the split rail fences. Sometimes there were no bridges, so stepping stones were the only option.

You may be noticing the color palette of this Park. Everywhere we're surrounded by intense spring green.  The wooden buildings, tree trunks and rocks balance out the palette with shades of grey and taupe.  

This is the Ogle home. 

The wildflowers provide just a hint of accent color in shades of pink, yellow, white, red and purple. The diversity of plant life here is unbelievable. These are crested dwarf iris nestled against a moss covered tulip tree trunk.

Another rhododendron lined stream to cross...

...that led us to an old mill. You can just see the troughs to the left of the mill house, that brought the stream water into the mill to grind grain, mostly corn. Much of the surrounding forest we walked through was at one time crop fields.

Even this snake fits in with the color scheme.  We came upon him looking like a stick on a pile of rocks that was the foundation of a long gone cabin. Don't know what kind he was, but he was at least a yard long.

A sweet violet graced our path.

Our destination for the day was actually the Grotto Falls trail, further on down the road. I wanted to get some exercise, and I sure did.

The trail was only about a three miles round trip, but it was 1.5 miles up all the way to the falls, and then downhill all the way back. Not as easy as we expected it to be. You can see in the picture above how heavily used this trail is by how exposed the roots are.  

FYI - the Great Smoky Mt. NP is the most visited national park in the USA.  It has 9 million visitors every year. That's more than twice the visitors of any other park!

Back to Grotto Falls. We did finally get there. Here's Rick by the lower of two sections.

And here we are under the upper section.  It was pretty cool to be able to walk completely around and under the falls.

This is a really large park, and there are lots more places to visit in the coming weeks.  Next time I'll tell you about Cades Cove and the bears.