Thursday, September 29, 2011

More of the Same

When we first retired, anxious friends were concerned we would wither away watching “Dancing..”, so they offered this sage advice.

 “ Make sure you have a project each day, even if it is just buying a new screwdriver.”

So this morning I finally got around to fixing the pesky leak in one of the trailer tires.
  • Pulled the tire
  • Had Goodyear fix TWO leaks
  • Replaced tire
  • Pulled around and exchanged unneeded fluids for fresh water
  • Torqued  the tires and sat back down.


Evidently this does not qualify, so we went for a late afternoon 2011_0829WHITE_ROCKS0014hike toward White Rocks.  I say “toward” knowing there was no way we were going to make that climb (and it has nothing to do with the late start; the last half mile switchbacks up these.

We old folks do have ways to amuse ourselves. 
“Look a picture rock!” which means we must stop here and BREATHE; taking a picture is strictly optional.  UNLESS the rock looks like something, then other rules apply.  If it looks like a PIG for instance, one must interact with it (in ways that do not expend any unnecessary energy gaining altitude.)
Unlike clouds, rocks can be ridden.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Skylight Cave Hike

It’s been quiet and not too remarkable for the last couple days.  (Are you sitting on the edge of your computer chair NOW?)  It has been cool and sunny and we have been finding small chores and small adventures to fill our days.  Many small Airstream repairs have been accomplished as well as routine laundry and such.  We are getting tired of hearing we should see the view from the Pinnacle, so we did.
Called the Gibraltar of America, this position commands access to the Gap and Powell valley.  Both sides in the Civil War held it a couple2011_0928STARLIGHT_CAVE_HIKE0016 times each, but always got bored, sick and hungry so left it to the other side without a shot being fired. Now there are lovely views, but the road is closed too early to see a sunset there…

Did meet this hippie chick up there…awesome….

We had to render tribute to the Postal service in Middleboro and nearby found the Old Carnegie Library building  which now houses the local Historical Society. There we learned:
  • Middleboro is the only town in America situated in a meteor crater. We mentioned Wetumpka Alabama, but further research may be required…
  • The history of the “Lost Squadron” –- planes which crash landed in Greenland in 1942.  They weren’t actually lost at the time, just out of fuel and landing fields, but the planes were under 236 feet of ice when a local Middleboro man funded an expedition to recover one.  It was restored and flew again.
  • Oh yes.  Chad Everett, the Six Million Dollar Man is a native…. OK, gotta go…..

This morning  we walked through sun dappled hardwoods listening to the birds and trying to identify all the different nut crops along the trail.  It is all second growth around here, but the variety is amazing. We  climbed a narrowing gorge with broken rock faces on each side until we found the entrances to the cave.
We knew the cave would be closed, but enjoyed a pleasant lunch on the bridge, talking quietly as is our wont.  Along came a doe and two fawns, looked us over and passed along.  A very nice quiet afternoon.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


The Hensley and Gibbons families settled an isolated plateau near the Cumberland Gap and lived independently there for five decades. The settlement they built has been reconstructed and, if you are very fortunate, Ranger Sharon and volunteer Ancil will walk the grounds and tell you the stories.  We were lucky to be the only sign ups for the Sunday morning  tour which begins with 30 minute ride on Kentucky back roads and UP the gated one lane Shillalah Creek road.  There is too much to tell here –- several tours would not exhaust Sharon’s stories, but here are some pictures with a few notes in the captions.

There was no sawmill on the top of Brush Mountain, so all the buildings were log, mostly chestnut,  chinked with clay then battened with these short split boards.


The homes and most outbuildings were built in the folds of the land; the wind rages over the top of the mountain here.


Fences were split rail as above or pickets.


Chicken house (with outside nesting boxes) and wood shed (elevated to allow wood to dry)


Our day wasn’t over yet because the Pine Mountain Resort State Park has a Sunday Buffet that is justly famous.  The park sits astride the next ridge northward from the Cumberland Gap which would itself have been a formidable barrier if not for the Narrows.  The dinning room windows give a view of the steep, rugged folds of the land and the Thomas Walker overlook gives a view of the sinuous passage cut through by the Cumberland River.  The overlook is a half mile hike, but here in eastern Kentucky that is measured VERTICALLY. Trust me, old bodies rebel at such after salad, green beans, mashed potatoes, fried apples, mac/cheese, carrots, roast beef, fried catfish, ham, chicken/dumplings, fried chicken and banana pudding, berry cobbler, three kinds of cake, macaroons and your choice of several kinds of pies only served on Sundays to native Kentuckians.   We dragged ourselves home and showered while the dulcimer students and instructors jammed in the campground.


This is all that remains of the State Record Elk after we strapped into it at the buffet.


Loyal readers will recall (and no doubt anxiously await) our promise to report on the search for proper campground  seating. search for the ultimate camp chair  We received absolutely no assistance from the dear doctor Whirl; He apparently took my reference to “broad aluminum beams” personally and withheld vital purchasing information.

Adrift as we were in the bewildering world of portable furniture, we stumbled on so many many unsuitable options—with multiple drink holders,flimgo chair tables left and right, battery operated rope lights, and umbrellas. (Sorry, flamingo fans, only this one.)
Notable is the new Camping World offering –a swiveling folding chair with BUILT-IN SPEAKERS (batteries not included). click here for a video which should have "Gypsy" theme music. Sorry, we prefer our outdoors unplugged.
We have settled into (and that is appropriate)  two ALP SPORT aluminum chairs with  “broad Aluminum beams”, nice blue upholstery,  and nearly inconspicuous drink holder.  (We have loved Alp Sport since they issued mimeographed catalogs and George Lamb answered the phone himself). 
Our Broad beams are power coated, so the true aluminum goodness does not shine through, but we know it’s there and it comforts us.

OK.  We like this one too.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011



  • THE PEOPLE are grand.  The park is small and not overly crowded, so the staff all know and like each other and we are so cute, they know us around here too.  The folks we meet in town, along the bike trail and the volunteers in the park make us feel welcome.
  • THE CAMPGROUND, to quote the superintendent, is "five star."  Where else have you found a National Park with hot showers, electrical hookups and 3G coverage?
  • THE VISITORS CENTER is really well done with world class movies and modern dioramas.
  • THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS CRAFT GUILD has a shop in the visitors center –- best craftsmen in the area.
  • THE BUFFET at Pine Mountain State Park deserves a mention -- great food and a double portion of friendliness.
  • THE HISTORY. The whole course of the American expansion into the West depended on the path through the Cumberland Gap. The story of the Gap from Buffalo path to the Modern Tunnel built to restore the terrain to the wild state is what you come here to learn and the Park personnel make that story unfold.
  • THE SCENERY!!! is spectacular.  Long, STEEP ridges with outcrops of stone, heavily forested with a real variety of trees so that Fall will be mind blowing. 


We started from Gibson Station and headed East.  (To the West the Rail has been taken over by the highway and the trail now follows the highway right of way.) 2011_0924CUMBERLAND_GAP_20007
The path is fine gravel but well pocked with hoof prints. We pass under this faux covered bridge and sight beautiful farms on both sides.  All day we saw only two parties of horsewomen and two bikes.  The horsewomen were warm and welcoming, told us more detail about the area.
  At one point we stopped to read a sign about the2011_0924CUMBERLAND_GAP_20041 Wilderness road’s beginning as a buffalo path and looked up to see –– BUFFALO. They go all out for authenticity around here.

wilderness road bike trail

The best part of the day was yet to come…Wilderness Road State Park has Ranger Billy who reenacts the role of Joseph Miller, frontiersman and founder of Miller’s Station.  The story is well told in another fine film shown at the visitor center.  The reconstructed fort is regarded to be the Most authentic in America.
We feel we know “Joseph Miller” from the film and shake his hand just as Daniel Boone had. Billy walks us through the Gunsmith shop where they have just fashioned a 1775 rifle in a shop  with only a forge and a hand made rifling machine made of wood. He slips in and out of character discussing the trade in deer hides destined to be fashionable pants for British dandies.  He walks us through the blacksmith shop and tells us just how the “pigs” of iron were carried to this point on the wilderness road.  Then the best part of the story… Billy was hired in 1999 to “build this fort.”  After several years of research, he came on the site with: two oxen, two horses, a wagon load of eighteenth century foodstuffs, some bedding, a very few iron tools,and thirty willing reenactors.  Six months later they left having completed the most historically accurate fort in the Americas.

 “In the first two days we made our wooden tools –mallets, handles for the froe….."
hHeumbly and carefully answered all our questions, invited us back for the reenactment of the “raid” in the Spring and might have stayed into the evening  if they were not closing the park.  We left amazed at the vision of this one man and his mastery of this era, but even more  thankful for his gracious manner.  They said that the real Joseph Miller could be gentle with children and fight fiercely to build and defend his dreams. We thought  Billy too might share those traits.


Gap Cave : you’re guano love this


Today we are off for a tour of Gap Cave with Ranger Lucas (part-time ranger and a full-time college student) and he was a delight.  We could tell that he loved his job; he had lots of stories, jokes, knew the history of the cave  and really made it fun for everyone.

“If you’re not havin fun, you’re not on MY tour.”

His specialty is civil war battlefields and he pointed out where civil war soldiers of both sides had signed the walls of the cave. Neatly inscribed in an almost inaccessible part of the roof was the name of a prominent confederate general. Al insists that this was done by an Aide valued for his penmanship and willingness to crawl through bat xxxx for the sake of his efficiency report.

Sometimes I think he was trying out his teaching techniques when he would throw out questions and then wait for one of us to answer.  Stump the tour, but we had Al along and only once was he able to get us. 

This was about a 2 hour tour through  4 levels of the 2011_0924CUMBERLAND_GAP_20105cave (over 180 steps) with the usual stalagmites, stalactites and other formations you would expect to see.  We were treated to several kinds of bats hanging around -- not a cave tour without them.  Yes, I took a lot of pictures, but they are just not very interesting after the fact….they look like a lot of blobs dripping.

Al’s favorite part:  It seems that before the park this cave was called Cudjo’s Cave and owned by the local college.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.  The ticket booth was across the busy “massacre road” from the cave and the scariest part of the tour was crossing the road to the cave.  When the park service took over, they replaced the rickety wooden steps and railings and took out the electrical cords running through the water in the cave. (Now it is all NPS –- stainless steel railings and safe steps throughout.)  BUT, when the college gave it up , they KEPT the water rights.  Now the water that forms the cave is collected, and bottled by Coca-Cola as Cumberland Gap Spring Water.

“Yeah, they filter out the bat guano and run a little ultraviolet through it, and it’s on sale for 99 cents a six pack.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Westward ho ..through the Gap

Movin again.  Old Timers weekend coming to the Cove, so we are heading north to the Cumberland Gap. Had a nice time talking with our neighbors but still got away early, for us. Groceries in Townsend.  Once through Knoxville, the two lane highway 11W was running parallel to the escarpment through lovely farmland. Then left on 25E through some huge grades over a set of tall ridges.  These would have been a tough slough with an Airstream on the old roads; hard to imagine how rugged the country was before the Wilderness Road.  This is new country for us and we are anxious to get to the visitors center and start our own exploration.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Kristen


We have been thinking of you a lot today.  We are in Cades Cove of course, where paths cross no matter how diverse.

 2011_0921BEARS0049We were hiking the Gregory Bald Trail as we did with you and what’s-his-name.  Same deal, a short out and back in late afternoon, a little thunder rumbling around, but not a soul in the vicinity -- a relief from the “bear Jams” on the Cove Road.  The trail seems familiar at the start, but a little way in there is way too much sky.

All of the hemlocks are standing dead, victims of the woolly adelgid thingy, and making huge holes on the canopy.  What used to be an avenue of huge trees, dark,  with only narrow shafts of light penetrating, is now much more open.   Room for the other  big trees to get bigger, I suppose, but still it is never easy to accept changes to familiar places.  ( I DO sound like mom sometimes don’t I?   I’ll be working on that.)


Some giants are already on the ground and it will be a major league game of Jackstraws for the next few years.

This is Patty doing a half summersault in the semi piked position, degree of difficulty 3.5 with a sore left wrist (from hauling in too many fish).

So we had a little hike, some light rain, a bit of regret about the trees and we shared some pleasant memories.  Wish you could have been here again…

Oh yes, that trout is still in the same spot under the little cascade….and he has friends.

The Fishing–thank you for asking…


When we fish along Abrams Creek with its well traveled trail alongside, we get lots of inquiries about the fishing (and about BEARS). To Most we give an honest appraisal and point out what wildlife we have seen, but there are Some tyros who deserve an altered reality. The mind boggles at the answers we might give….
The facts of the matter are:  We fish daily and sometimes twice daily in that first three hundred yards of the Creek before it gets too rugged.  The first day the action was lively and there were several noteworthyBOOTS fish.  The second morning we tried to be first on the river, but  the Otters beat us to it and kept us amused most of the day.  They were feeding on some kind of bottom feeding fish (there were hundreds) and they were quick to announce their successes to us.  We think their trout eating habits are greatly exaggerated by unsuccessful fishermen.
By lunch we are on the porch of the Cades Cove Visitor’s Center enjoying a snack and the music of  Tymes Past.  We enjoyed meetTYMES PASTing Earl and Betty last year and it was nice to get caught up.  Earl has a huge inventory of corny jokes and puns.  Betty keeps trying to get him to play –especially gospel songs – and he keeps trying to play “Buffalo Girl.”  It’s hilarious. 


On the last evening Pat put on another of her seminars catching fish for the ladies on the bridge.
 “Why I didn’t believe there COULD BE any fish in that shallow water!”
We know.  Neither did we….

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bear Business

UP A TREEWe knew from our Spring visit that the Black Bears had a bumper crop of cubs.  There are twins and triplets everywhere.  Well the bears have come home to roost –literally.
Unlike last year the “soft mast” crops ( wild blackberries, blueberries and cherries) are way down this summer.  The cherries around Cades Cove are up at 2500 feet so if you are hiking up there in August, look out.  This year, no cherries and really hungry bears returned to the the lower elevations famished.  Now they are into the acorns and Oak trees all over the Cove have little black acrobats clamoring around. Three closely spaced oaks right along the road has had bears in it for two days -- Seven on Monday and three today.  Cars must pass right under them and dodge broken limbs and other debris.  Rangers on “bear Jam” patrol  spend all day moving traffic along and keeping shutterbugs at bay while the bears gorge, nap, repeat. Other bear jams pop up all around the cove.  To our eyes, the ”hard mast” (acorns, walnuts and other nuts) doesn’t look heavy at all.  Walnut trees along the roads seem empty and this does not bode well for our furry friends putting on weight for the winter.  Next year, lots of year old bear “teenagers”  Oh boy!
bear jam

This tiny little mama has three – “himself” is still 35 feet up that oak tree.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Movin Day

Imagine, if you will, A shiny Airstream by a tranquil mountain lake with the Great Smokies rising blue and green in the background. Imagine again the whole range of the Smokies from Mt Leconte to Thunderhead with that same Airstream in the foreground. Can you see the mountains framed in the Airstream door?  Now imagine the photographer, palm slapped forcefully against his forehead….Yes, the delete button.  Sorry guys, no pictures today.
The  roads (and the views) were great –- trust me.  We stayed clear of Maryville and opted for Pumpkin Center and the lead in to the “Dragons Tail” (HWY 129) with its warnings about hairpin turns, switchbacks (perhaps dragons?). “Consider an Alternate Route.”   We, of course, considered the Foothills Parkway with all its glorious views of the mountains we were seeking.  We stopped to walk to the observation tower at Look Rock and to breathe what is certifiably the worst air pollution in the country (coal fired power plants from Texas and the TVA funnel air past this first high spot going eastward.)  The view was awesome though we were told it was better before the aforementioned improvements.
We picked up groceries and pizza in Townsend arriving in the Cades Cove campground at perhaps its most hectic time of the week.  The crowds were flowing out of the Cove Road, stopping for Ice cream, the picnic area was also draining.  Harleys were making their presence known accelerating up to Crib Gap, a string of arriving campers were jockeying for positions and a few of the established campers  were running generators that belonged on a construction site.  This was quite a contrast to the last few days in the National Forest.
In just a couple hours  it started to quiet down.  We walked the ”non generator” loop and found it quieter and less hectic.  The Group camping was empty and deer grazed in the green spaces; Anthony Creek made its own sweet sounds. By quiet time, we almost missed the coyote barks we left back at Tellico. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

There be Giants…


The clouds on the Skyway were between 2500  and 3500 feet; above, the classic “clouds in the valley” shot. We were crossing over to North Carolina (where we actually have a non resident fishing license) to do a little scouting and look in on the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
When we were thinking about an Airstream (for the twelfth time), Pat was firm that it had to be short enough to use at Horse Cove CG at Joyce Kilmer.  We enjoyed many backpacking trips with the kids in the Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness area and camping at Horse Cove was as close as we could get.  Earlier this week there was even a plan to use our aged GMC tow vehicle to pull Lotti over the mile high Skyway and see if we could slip her gleaming 25 feet into a slot there.  This plan met stiff resistance and was thoroughly rejected while we climbed steeply this morning and descended even more steeply.  Still contemplating the scorched brakes and groaning transmission we might have endured on such a journey, we were almost relieved to see that Forest Service had newly engineered the campsites to virtually eliminate all but the most stubborn RVers. 
Philosophical now, we decided that this area is for the Young and Flexible, and Horse Cove, like Camp 4 in Yosemite, should be for them.  Our days of climbing to Hangover Lead for the sunset might be behind us, but we could, by god, still negotiate the Memorial Loop. (That being the tourist two miler that we young dirtbags once scoffed at.)
The Memorial Loop circles some of the largest cove hardwoods in the country.  Seriously now, it has always been a refuge and a retreat; even when crowded with hikers, a kind of reverence overtakes most by the time they hike to the Memorial Plaque; the noisy and flip flop clad jump on the trail backwards and turn back to the car at the second set of steps.  The really big yellow poplars are in the back loop and by then everyone knows this is a Cathedral. 
Still dirtbags at heart,we blew past the kiosk which might have proven informational and rounded the first corner to see THIS….
     and THIS2011_0916KILMER0041

Every  tree along the path, splintered.  Every Hemlock seemingly twisted by a demonic force… We speculated on wind, and tornado, perhaps ice.  We entered into discussions with others who thought they could remember the exact storm…
One warmly hugged the first live tree we f2011_0916KILMER0046ound amongst the carnage…

Then, we were joined by a scoutmaster and his bride who HAD stopped by the Informational Kiosk…
“They’re All Hemlocks, dead at the hands of the Wolly Angelid.  The Forest Service had to remove them for safety and decided to blow them with explosives to make it appear like natural causes..”
Thus chastened, we slipped along the rest of the loop, humbly, reverentially, but  saddened that we had lost so many, many friends.  Damm bugs! 
2011_0916KILMER0057 2011_0916KILMER0068

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It’s drizzling a little and just enough that we did not want to commit to a whole day hiking in a raincoat. The rain came later than predicted but, hopefully, it will clear earlier in the afternoon, as predicted.  We carried our packs, boots and lunch, but drove down the gravel road to Citico Creek and the historical town site of Jeffery.  Here the trail into Jeffery’s Hell begins and climbs toward a lovely waterfall which is, perhaps, better approached from the Cherohalla Skyway.  The trail guides would have you believe that the area was named for a wanderer lost for a time in the rhododendron “hells”, but there is this inconveniently named little town site...
At any rate, we “discovered” Citico Creek burbling along in all its trout laden glory and spent several hours following along and wondering what a Tennessee non resident license costs.
The ”improved” road down here approaches one developed campground and several “dispersed camping” sites.  (The places folks used to just camp are semi-official now).  Al studied the feasibility of bringing the Airstream down here for one of those postcard camping sites.  It is doable.
 “But Why?” reasoned Patty.
“Cool pictures for the blog”, was not deemed a satisfactory response.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back Roads and Billy Goat Trails

Indecision reigns. The Coleman Lake CG was tranquil, sunny and cool. We imagined a day with feet up and a gentle breeze.. Nah! We are retired and a little tired, not catatonic.  We studied out our options and decided to reach for Indian Boundary Campground  in the Cherokee NF.
 “There’s no fishing here,” says Patty and that settles it.

The bonus of yesterday’s diversion to the East was that we could now drive back roads and  avoid the onerous bumpy interstate circuit through Ft Payne AL and Chattanooga GA.
Tallapoosa GA was a treat, for the Memorial and the great Victorian homes.   Hwy 27 was great with the second cutting of hay in the fields and Turkey working the edges for displaced protein.  Once past Rome with its multiple versions of hwy 53 and short section of I-75, we hit 225.  What a sweetheart of a road –flat, gently curving two lane up a valley with the Cohutta mountains rising on the East and the long spine of Lookout Mountain far to the West.  Lots of Cherokee history here.  225 follows the Trail of Tears from the New Echota Historical site past Chief Joseph Vann’s home. (Sorry, both open only Thursday to Sunday.)
Sure, we see you, highway 411, all four-laned now to the Tennessee line.  We might have abandoned you for the gorgeous eastbound 64 through the Ocoee gorge and up highway 30 past Reliance with the “only fly shop in Tennessee with a working fireplace”, but we would have missed the fun on the MECCA PIKE
The fun starts at Etowah on a deceptively modern highway 310 East. It winds and twists like a old buffalo trail, which it no doubt was. It climbs and wanders at 40 mph and no one even thinks about passing an Airstream gamely sweeping through the curves.  I guess you know you are on a thoroughfare of note when the majority of oncoming vehicles are motors and places like “Hog Heaven” are featured.  310 gives way to 39 perhaps because it is just too narrow for three digits and it continues to gyrate until it splashes into Tellico Plains.
2011_0915CITICO_CREEK0019 The Plains are surprisingly gentrified of late with food and biker joints going upscale like motorcycle prices. The “original” Tellicafe is still serving from its antiquated old Hardees building; hope it is still as good as always…
It’s just sixteen miles now up the Cherohalla 2011_0915CITICO_CREEK0025Skyway.

“Road Work next 23 miles” translates to beautiful new top coating, bright striping and lots of guardrails. (Thank you President Obama).

It’s late afternoon now and the road is quiet, winding along the 2011_0915CITICO_CREEK0024Tellico River then up through huge rock cuts to start its climb toward Turkey Creek Mountain. 

We turn off at Indian Boundary Campground, find friendly camp hosts and set up in a shady level site just as the sun sets over the lake.
Thought for the day (from a fellow Airstreamer)

I AM what I wanted to be when I grew up –– RETIRED.

A Town Remembers–-Tallapoosa GA

There may be 1,000 Miles of American highway called Veterans 2011_0914TALLAPOSSA_WAR_MEMO0087Memorial, but few towns along those miles  have done a better job of remembering.
As Georgia 100 leaves the center of town, a gentle left creates a triangular park. The flags were flying all down the street and a sidelong glance convinced us we had passed something important.  It took a few miles to get turned around and parked beside the Tallapoosa MEDAL OF HONOR PARK

The tiny park commemorates the dead from every American conflict and names each fallen soldier from the county.  There is a Vietnam tribute to two (of nine) fallen, one black and one white.  
…and this.

The Twin Towers stand in black Marble beside an artifact from the rubble.