Friday, June 29, 2012

nice shot from just off the observation deck

Roan Mountain has quickly grown as one of my favorite places to hike, it offers a wide variety of trails and spectacular views via the Appalachian Trail. During the winter months the access road to the Rhododendron Gardens and the Cloudland Hotel site is closed, but recently the gates were opened and I was thrilled to get up on that side of that mountain to do some hiking. In the past three weeks I have been on Roan three different trips, the first with my dad during the Rhododendron festival and the plants were about 80% bloomed, they're a beautiful sight if you are lucky enough to catch them in bloom. The second trip was with Jeff and was filled with adventure, including multiple severe storms with hail, thick fog, and an upset stomach that couldn't be settled (mine) and the last trip was yesterday when my wife and I caught the mountain on a perfect night to watch the sunset at the Roan High Bluffs. All pictures featured in today's blog will be from those trips.
observation deck at High Bluffs
sun getting close to the mountain, really putting off some glow

The High Bluffs have been on my radar for a long time, I have just patiently waited for the access road to open so I could investigate. I was unable to find much information online about them so I wondered if they were really worth visiting. I can assure you as you read this, there are no finer views in all of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The high bluffs are at an elevation of 6237ft while Carver's Gap (road at top of mountain on TN/NC line) is only around 5500ft. The Access road leads you by the former Cloudland Hotel site and forks to dirt on out to the gardens you will pass the parking lot for cars and buses on your journey to the bluffs trail head. Just past the loop to return to the gardens a half mile spur trail leads you to the observation deck hung out over the high bluffs. I was surprised at the sheer drop off the deck rails, a fall would most likely be fatal and your only hope of survival would be a narrow five foot ledge just about ten feet below the deck, from there it's another 200ft drop and certain death. On the trip with Jeff the weather was a constant hindrance, storms blew in and out limiting visibility but also changing picture to picture. Amber and I were blessed with the finest weather I've had on Roan, with about a 10m visibility and comfortable winds. Dad and I also had nice weather but we only toured the gardens.
high bluffs after some storms and the sun beams cutting through

The Gardens were beautiful but crowded, everyone we talked to though was nice and the park service had paved a concrete path through the gardens making it a smoother walk for older hikers and gaining access to folks in wheelchairs. I was really happy that this move was made, I think everyone should have the opportunity to see the sights I take in on my hikes.
strolling through gardens

If you ever find yourself in need of a break from the summer heat and the stress of everyday life, I suggest you make your way to Roan Mountain. It's a nice park and the whole family from toddlers to the grandparents can enjoy a day here. If that doesn't convince you, just look at the pictures...happy trails!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yesterday I had to travel to Knoxville to pick up my wife who was returning from California after visiting with family. I used this trip as a good excuse to make a 25 minute detour off interstate 40 to an area just inside the Great Smokey Mountain National Park and barely across the North Carolina state line. Big Creek is a tributary of the Pigeon River and the Big Creek Trail follows parallel to the creek up an old jeep trail. The trail gains virtually no elevation and is a pleasant stroll shaded by the trees and the sounds of the water rushing downstream. One of the most majestic swimming holes is located at a mile and a half in, it's named Midnight Hole and is said to have earned that name due to the deep dark waters of it's depths. The hole is formed because two huge boulders pinch Big Creek to a narrow focused stream which has eroded the rock bed beneath over the years. The area is one of the most popular swimming holes in all of Tennessee so my early start paid off with me having the whole place to myself. I have seen a lot of beautiful places during my hikes but I had to sit down and soak this one in. Sometimes I feel so lucky just to have the opportunity to get out and do these things and I think of friends I know who would like to be there but aren't physically able. On up the stream is another tributary that empties into Big Creek and it's known as Mouse Creek, at it's intersection with Big Creek, Mouse Creek Falls is formed, a nice 35ft waterfall. I was short on time due to my lingering at Midnight Hole and had to skip Mouse Creek Falls but I will return and next time with a pair of swimming trunks. Until next time...happy trails!
Midnight Hole

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day three of our hiking vacation began with an early morning wake up to beat the crowds to Laurel Falls just inside the national park border in Gatlinburg, TN. Upon arriving at the parking lot by 7am we were surprised to find five other vehicles already there. The sun hadn't came up over the mountains yet and our hike was done in near darkness, as we approached the falls a hiker already heading out stopped and asked if we had seen the bear. Unfortunately we didn't see one, it has always been a dream to see a bear on one of my hikes. We continued on reaching the falls just ahead of a large family of hikers. I was able to get a few good pictures of the upper half of the falls because a bridge cuts the 80ft falls in half. Steve scrambled down the bank to photo the entire falls while I rested near the bridge. A nice lady from Ohio joined me and we compared waterfall stories and viewed each others photographs. Steve eventually rejoined us and we hiked out, we had a busy day ahead and the sun was just beginning to peek over the ridges.
Laurel Falls (Gatlinburg)

We traveled through the park across Newfound Gap toward Cherokee, NC. After a quick breakfast in town, we set off to find Mingo Falls. The falls is located on an indian reservation near downtown, and with a short climb of 200 stairs, a small footbridge crosses in front of the 120ft falls. They are said to be the highest in the Smokies. Thankfully, we arrived with perfect timing just barely beating the sun from being directly over the falls ruining any photo opportunities.
120ft high Mingo Falls

We got on the Blue Ridge Parkway and began our days travel toward Asheville and eventually home. The road climbs steadily for near an hour and follows the ridge line high above Cherokee. We stopped at the Balsam Grove overlook which is the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 6053ft. We traveled on for another hour before the BRP intersects highway 215 which travels to either Brevard or Waynesville. It's also home to a cluster of beautiful waterfalls which I have explored in past visits. I decided to give Steve the highlights of the area and we traveled down to 215 to Dill Falls, a nice 60ft waterfall in a deep cove. From there it was on to the Waynesville side of 215 and a visit to Sam's Branch Cascades and Wash Hollow Falls. I like these two because they are on the same trail and very different style waterfalls, the easy half mile hike is an added bonus. Sam's Branch Cascades is a 100ft multilevel waterfall which the trail crosses about halfway up the falls. Once crossing, a small tributary enters from the left and around the bend Wash Hollow flows 50ft off a rock cliff into a clear green pool. We spent a few minutes resting and hiked back out to the truck parked along the highway. We drove down to Sunburst Falls which can be photographed from the road and then turned heading back up the mountain. Bubbling Branch Cascades is also visible from the road but warrants walking over for a closer look. The falls cascade down a slick rock face and pool deeply on various levels, they are fun because they are easy to climb and at the top is a clear deep swimming hole with a rope swing. The clear water rivals that of the Devil's Bathtub. We waded around some of the pools but was hesitant to get wet for the ride home. Some of the rhododendron bushes were in bloom along the creek allowing some good photos.
Highest point on BRP. Balsam Grove
Wash Hollow Falls
Upper pool at Bubbling Branch Cascades
Dill Falls estimated between 60-80ft

After leaving Bubbling Branch and 215 we followed the parkway toward Asheville making a pit stop at the Graveyard Fields overlook, an extremely popular stop due to the two waterfalls here. For time reasons, we only visited Second Falls which is my favorite of the two. It has a great swimming hole at it's base and looks to be about 15ft deep.
Second Falls at Graveyard Fields

The first hiking vacation went better than I had ever expected. I was able to take in nearly 20 waterfalls and spend time with one of my best friends. However, I missed my wife and was looking forward to getting home and spend some time with her. Steve's ride was still working when we arrived back to my house so we had a few minutes to reflect on our trip. I was playing on the laptop and stumbled across a waterfall in Oregon that caught our interest. We researched it further and found the area to be a hotbed for waterfalls. Could it be the birth of Hiking Vacation Part II? TO BE CONTINUED....Happy Trails!
Heading home!