Thursday, May 31, 2012

Almost Heaven, West Virginia!

Sorry, I’m having a John Denver Moment –- West Virginia is FAR OUT!!
 We spent the morning unwinding and doing necessary house work.  Then, after a very thorough and delightful orientation from ranger Dot,  we watched the climbers on Seneca Rocks through binoculars while resting in the Visitor Center’s easy chairs -- Shades of watching climbers on the Swiss Matterhorn from a cozy café.  No pastry being on offer here, we retired to our silver sanctuary and prepared Decadent BLTs  followed by fresh brownies a la mode. Perhaps a nap…?
Later, we arose ready for adventure…

After a long winding climb to the top of the “Allegheny Front” on Spruce Mountain, we discovered this beautiful mountain TROUT lake nearby a nice primitive campground.  It is NOT likely that we will be pulling Lottie up here (She says) but we can dream…
Just a little further and we are on the top of West IMG_3900Virginia. This, I am confident, is the highest parking space in the state.

The trail around Spruce Knob (4863’) offers panoramas of Red Spruce stands, high open pasture land, the distant parallel mountains, broken and rounded with streaks of exposed sandstone “fins” pointing raggedly upward. 



The trail winds though stunted evergreens and wind sculpted “Flag Spruce.”  Red Spruce grow densely on IMG_3890high elevations, so closely that lumbermen could cut them and they would not fall.  Standing alone in winter winds, all the windward branches break off leaving a “flag” trailing eastwardly.

The whole mountaintop experience was so reminiscent of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia NP, Maine –- the great vistas, rocky paths thru miniature forests, trees, moss, lichens, all identical to that mountain a thousand miles North.  One thing was different; despite the large parking area, we shared the whole mountain with only two other families.
click here to see a slideshow

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where Airstreams Fear to Tread –- Part two : WEST VIRGINIA

No No NO! We do not mean that Airstreams should avoid West Virginia; West Virginia is Gorgeous! Nor do we subscribe to the notion that if you could flatten it out it would be bigger than Texas, and Better for it.  It is just that it is so unrelentingly VERTICAL.  Remember my analogy of the rucked up carpet?  West Virginia is where that train wreck started.  Incredibly steep ridges, a narrow valley, then another and another. 
This morning we set out on a 200 mile transect of the Monongahela NF (and half the state). We just wanted to get AWAY from Pipestem State Resort Park and the most poorly engineered campsite we have ever encountered. We started early and by nine o’clock we had traversed the New River Gorge.  “9% Grade next 2 miles”,  15 MPH double hairpin turns, “Trucks check brakes, Airstreams check liability coverage”…
When we left the beautiful National Park Visitor Center vowing to come back and explore, we thought we were through.  Interstate 64 is a beautiful road, broad vistas, grades we can handle with ease and lots of wildflowers.  So scenic drive US 219 must be a sweetheart. It is, if your sweetheart is into bungee jumping.
Long narrow valleys, pastoral and well tended; we saw some landmark farms we wished we could stop and savor –- Renick Farms in the Renick valley, the little town of Mingo, many more.  Each valley must end, head up and the climbs to the valley head are steep and angular.  The descents …well, we remember a couple that were nothing but a quick series of  15 MPH “S” turns so steeply banked that they looked like a water slide or the “half pipe” in the X Games.  Some, like the descent into the Elk River drainage were long, long glides through gorgeous scenery.  It went on all day and you “Really had to be there.”
But it was worth it. 


Mid afternoon we sighted the Seneca Rocks and we were set up in the cool shade of Seneca Shadows National Forest CG for sunset. These rocks are the most climbed in the Eastern US.  We hope that the tent camping area (where these pictures were taken) will have a cadre of eager “dirt bag climbers” to entertain us tomorrow.  
Editorial Note: There are only these few pictures.  Patty felt that pressing herself deeper into the upholstery took precedence over photography.  She also notes that this vehicle does not offer the variety and number of handholds she requires. 
Some numbers:
  • Number of Airstreams sighted –- One, nearby a classy home on Scenic 219.
  • Number of other recreational vehicles actually using this road –- Zero.
  • Number of transient RVs in our campground –- One.
  • Number of very tired and exhilarated Airstream couples – One.

"We make camp here. In the morrow we climb.” 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Big Cats and other Visions

We don’t have a long history exploring along the Parkway though we have always used it to get our first sight of the high Smokies and to avoid the Maryville traffic. Today we had more errands to run in Townsend but explored as we went.  Millers Cove is mostly untouched until you near the exclusive Blackberry Farm.  Other well endowed folks have purchased nearby and closed a pretty road to Hesse Creek and posted lots more.  At the Missionary Baptist, we stopped to admire the flawlessly maintained cemetery all decked out for Memorial Day.

One resident distributing a carload of flower baskets paused to tell us about the families resting here and the too tragic story of one young girl whose name stood out.
Place names all round the area carry these names. And tell the history as well. Turkey Pen Gap, Farr Gap is a family name, not just a ”fer piece.”  We always take special note of all the places named Panther -- Panther Town, Panther Creek near here, and many others. They recall both the presence of big cats and the singularity of a sighting or a place associated.
Once, a few years back, we were easing up the Parkway after a  shower.  There were wisps of  clouds crossing the road, and, though we had missed the sunset, we hoped the view from the top would be clear or at least interesting. Rising, we had just topped a tiny rise and started around a curve when a long tawny figure crept cautiously but confidently across.  We were less that 75 feet away when he reached the center line.  He didn’t pause his slow pace, and did nothing to accelerate or otherwise acknowledge our presence.  And then he was gone, his FOUR FOOT TAIL the last thing we saw as roadside brush enveloped him.
We were speechless and immobile in the road just staring at the verge and down at  paw prints dimpling the wet sheen of the pavement.  We were certain what we saw and also certain that reporting or even mentioning this would have no effect.  Wildlife agencies were always skeptical and protected their reputations (and at the same time the remnant populations) by not acknowledging Panther sightings.
Experienced woodsmen and, in one case, a Smokies Ranger report sightings now and again and as years go by and sightings accumulate.  Today you may report to a scientist in Virginia; a scenario has begun to emerge.  Young males travel long distances – hundreds of miles –- on great circuits hoping to find a willing female and establish a new territory.  Females seldom move 75 miles from  their birthplace, so the great wanderings are most often fruitless, but who can say?  Coyotes moved from Texas to New Jersey in our lifetimes and were seldom seen and only occasionally heard. Big cats are so much less likely to show themselves at Fido’s kibble dish.  There are reports of declawed “pets” being released and occasionally killed in the mountains…. If one of those females should make the acquaintance of one our lonely bachelors from say Oklahoma or Ozark Arkansas …..

Friday, May 25, 2012

We shall never speak of this again…


…well, maybe just a little blog post.

We were driving the steeply downhill route to our hiking trailhead when we came upon a group of Harley riders with one bike over the edge of the road.  No one was hurt –- it was a steep 170 degree descending turn and the road edge was soft.  With our 20’ tow strap, 5-6 hulking strong riders and skillful driving by Patty, all was soon put to right.  Belatedly we realized that no one had pictures of the crash site, but that was all for the best.  The driver was looking a little sheepish so we all pledged to never speak of this again.   In short order they were off down “Happy Valley Road”, a perfect gem of a touring road.








  • Little Bottoms Trail 
  • Although frequently used, this trail is recommended only for those who are sure of foot.  It generally follows an old man-way shaped more by 150 years of walking feet than by shovel and mattock. …It retains the characteristics of mountain footpaths of the old days before the uniform graded trails were built.
  • (                               from “Hiking Trails of the Smokies”)

Freely translated that means it climbs the side of a cliff on a long diagonal, doubles back only once then plunges down the other side like a runaway bowling ball.


IMG_3678We walked out to the  place where the tornado mowed a path over the mountain a couple years back.  The damage was extensive. Huge root balls from downed trees would have made it hard to find the trail in the aftermath.  Trail crews are still working to clear it, We came upon one crew cooling in the creek.  (No pictures here, they were, ahem…”out of uniform.” 


IMG_3679Indians in the Eastern US used “trail trees” usually White Oak bent and allowed to grow in an inverted vee shape to mark campsites, water sources and other important points.  (more information at Mountain Stewards).  At the edge of this path of destruction, nature formed a “trail tree.”


Some thoughts:

  • New use for a Bandanna. Tie it to your hiking stick to dip it into the creek. Then you won’t look like a feral dog getting a little water on your overheated scalp.
  • Too much walking, not enough casting.
  • On a steep upgrade, interesting items show up every 60 feet and require careful, detailed study.
  • I really should taste the grapes before I buy them!IMG_3669

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trout fest 2012



Troutfest was fun.  There were demonstrations by Master fly casting instructors and clinics for beginners with Estrogen. (Patty took a Ladies- only clinic with Charity Rutter.)
There were  rod vendors and master rod makers, artists and fly tiers, groups with especial interest to the area like the Appalachian Bear rescue. (I’ll spare you the pictures of bear scat, but know that they have already rescued 35 puny little bears that came out of hibernation as yearlings weighing as little as 10 pounds.  All but three have been plumped up and returned to the wild. If you want a good cause, look them up. )

That’s a $450 solid walnut rod case lined with premium cowhide and featuring buffalo hide handles –- it will hold TWO of your $3000 custom Split Bamboo rods and two reels.
The talks were great.  We especially enjoyed Ian and Charity Rutter , local guides and authors.  Ian was our “Buddha” when we were learning to trout fish and we never fail to learn something new from him.
Saturday night Jason Borger, son of a legendary fisherman and inventor, told us about the making of A River Runs Through It.  He was 21 years old, playing the fishing double for Brad Pitt and directed by Robert Redford.  Great talk followed by a showing of the Movie.  Has it really been twenty years?
And the food, you ask. Top flight barbeque, home made ice cream and Nonnie’s Fried Pies!  Nonnie’s grands wanted to help, so she send them around with little samples.  Who could resist? 

Sunday night we couldn’t wait to try out our new knowledge.  With all the new techniques swimming around in our heads, neither of us could hit the water.  We decided that some lawn practice was in order.  Don’t worry. We slept it off and this morning the fishing was good and trout lunch was better.

Patty found something she has a use for…IMG_3550

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Greening of the Mountains

In late April the little hamlet of Sylva NC celebrates the first hint of Spring with a street fair — The Greening of the Mountains.  When we arrived this year it was reported that the greening was at least three weeks early. The Mountain Laurel is blooming in the sunny places along the creeks right now and the rhododendrons  are getting ready, but the greening of the trees is Spectacular. 
IMG_3525In the Spring, new leaves are just getting their color and the green is tender and mellow and faintly translucent.  We watched the trees at high elevations, dark green conifers set in pale green, give way to lowland species leafed out with that super abundance of leaves that cannot possibly be sustained through the winds and heat of summer.     In the backlight of the partly cloudy morning on our way through the park, everything seemed to have leapt to full  height along the bushy edges and shafts of light made the light green understory glow.  We hardly know how to choose, but Spring is for us the most beautiful, rich and rewarding season to be in the Mountains.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cradle of Forestry

The Cradle of Forestry was an unexpected delight. Here the Forest Service tells the story of the beginning of modern forestry in America.  Original buildings from the original school are maintained and the interpretation is first class. Narratives at each building tell details of student life — riding 20 miles a day cruising timber on horseback after a rigorous morning in a rustic classroom, life batching it in rustic quarters with local mountaineers and rangers.


Beautiful paved paths through Rhododendrons and mature forest are as spotless and well designed as Disney may have done it –- a perfect introduction to forest values for those who may never have walked a forest trail, still wild and untrammeled enough for experienced birders and nature lovers.


Two of the original Ranger Cabins, build in the style of the Black Forest in Germany are on the grounds.

The exhibits along the trail are well done and inside the Discovery Center hundreds of hands-on exhibits would interest kids of all ages.  Al liked the helicopter “ride” which displayed a  film of a flight over a forest fire while we sat in the backseat of a chopped down Huey.  The seats vibrated and the radios squawked and rotor sounds made the flight seem real. Patty could hardly be coaxed out from the “tunnel” where she crawled through “dens” of several mammals. Security had to restrain her as she recruited toddlers to follow her in…

Dinner in the Clouds

IMG_3418We had missed lunch, and the trails were closing and it was Mother’s Day Weekend and for several other reasons it seemed imperative to drive four more miles up to the Pisgah Inn for another Silk Pie All The Way, proceeded by the appropriate entrée of your choice…
We scored a window table for the first seating, but in the time we parked, the clouds had surrounded the  Inn and visibility was zero.  The Dinner (and Dessert) was great, as was our server, but the treat was watching a young couple with a 3 1/2 year old girl and 2 year old red headed boy. So many memories of ours at that age and a look back at the serene and confident mom handling it all and the over anxious dad correcting too much and too often.  Al had a few little coy smiles from Herself when she wasn’t attending to little brother’s every need. We really need a grandchild fix soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Blood Lust…

         …and a fine mess of fish to fry.
It was inevitable it seems to me now.  The shoals of plump hatchery fish anxious to do her bidding, the searing questions –- “Am I catching three quite similar fish from the same place, or the same fish three times?”  These and Patty’s ingrained frugality (of which more later) combined at some point, mid river on a bright sunny morning with the Mountain Laurel just bursting into bloom and the finny minions  beginning to look up for cleverly presented bits of feather and hair.  She yelped (Well, if  you know Pat, you know she yelped repeatedly) then brought a lovely bright colored rainbow trout to hand. She held him aloft admiringly and, in her best British accent  asked, “Shall we eat this one?”
Oh, how quickly they lose all virtue when faced with such succulent temptations!  She, the dry fly purist who defied the doubters and caught a generous plenty of fish when all others proffered earthworms, She, who once eschewed hatchery trout as “Dumb fish” and plied her talents exclusively on wild, mountain bred trout, She, the exemplar to those bookish anglers who explain empty creels with lofty disquisitions on Etymological variants in the feeding lanes,  SHE wants to EAT this noble Salmonoid!!!
There were, as always, hurdes.
 “Do I have to KILL it? “
“How?”  (Here is implied an imploring gesture to her otherwise fishless spouse.)
“What should we put him in?”
Lacking any convenient conveyance, this and several subsequent  fish were given their freedom.  Next morning, she was back, a certain eagerness in her step, an expression slightly reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, and a large, fresh Ziplock in her pocket.
Several lessons were learned:  Firstly, the larger fish did not get that way by docilely plunging themselves into Ziplocks.  The best (meaning now, the plumpest and most  toothsome, not the most agile fighters) were lost between hand and sack.
Secondly, the requirement for one of those large, unsightly aluminum and green mesh landing nets (which She so lately ridiculed) now seems urgent.
Thirdly, there were sincere questions of the fishless spouse as to his history and facility in fish cleaning  --a fair question, if ever so emasculating.
You, fair reader, may recall  mention of Patty’s frugality, ingrained over the years of coping with Fishless Spouse.  Why, she inquires, should we sally off to the Pisgah Inn for trout on Mothers Day, when we can enjoy the benefits of that expensive Non resident fishing license right here in our lovely Airsteam, cooked OUTSIDE on our color coordinated silver Coleman stove?
“You know”, she pipes up as we remove our fishing boots, “if we eat a lot of trout, we can save on Fish Oil tablets.”  The sheer ridiculousness of that keeps us giggling all through the disemboweling.IMG_3395IMG_3399

      This skillet is really Large –really

In our humble household, new purchases are always subjected to the USE TEST.  Nothing is purchased unless it will be used extensively and no other simpler substitute is apparent.  After exhaustive analysis and a lovely fried trout lunch, two items have been nominated:
A LANDING NET, perhaps one of those gracefully curved Adirondack items in exotic hardwoods, the Fishless Spouse muses…
A CREEL, to store fish and keep them fresh and cool, a BIG one, muses sweet and lovely wife…

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


…IMPOSSIBLE -- even with an Airstream -- while fishing for a week and boondock camping. Oh, it is Soo much better than ground sleeping in a two person tent and waiting out the rain under a leaky fly, but still one’s personal hygiene is somewhat compromised under these otherwise delightful circumstances.  It was with  relief mixed with regret that we slipped out of Cataloochee Valley without incident on the road and immersed ourselves in a veritable orgy of cleaning and energy use. 
In Davidson River campground we scored one of the rare electric sites, and, while waiting for it, we scrubbed the plumbing, hosed the dirt off the undercarriage and removed the Hemlock sap from most horizontal surfaces. Meanwhile Patty sorted loads of laundry and we hit the town for Laundromat, groceries (including ICE CREAM) and a carwash. 
Settled into our lovely site next to Jim and Mary, we folded and tidied and sorted into the dusk and couldn’t be tempted to try the fishing.  Time for that tomorrow. For now it is just enough that we don’t have to hold our nose to put on clothes….
The morning was overcast and the silken snares of clean bed linen kept us imprisoned until Patty could stand it no longer.  The River was clearing from the rain on Monday and Patty started picking up fish right  away while Al stood by and policed up litter and acted disinterested.
Once, we were IMG_3180strolling upstream when a wiry guy with a spinning rod, a big landing net and a white tee shirt shoved past and took possession of the prime fishing spot we were aiming for. Patty glared, but said nothing.  She took the riffle upstream, but still within sight and hearing distance where she proceed to take fish after fish from the same spot, always announcing each one with characteristic enthusiasm.  I saw her release five and I think I heard her mumbling something about “Mr. White Tee Shirt can kiss my….”

Sunday, May 6, 2012

On Rain


Once, many years ago, a young student and his adventuresome wife set off, without benefit of the Weather Channel, to canoe a sizable chunk of the   Current River in Missouri.  On the third night of  5, a Gulf Hurricane whose name is  long forgotten decided to break up over the Midwest.  The Rain began in late afternoon as our adventurers set up their tent on a gravel bar across from Big Springs State Park.  The adventurers felt vastly superior to the car campers on the far bank and hardly missed them when they packed up and vanished.

Dinner was good, the tent reasonably tight for canvas and the male adventurer felt the company was beyond compare.  It was a dark and stormy night and a long  grey day.  The male adventurer felt the pleasures of the tiny two person tent were beyond compare and they made merry with cold food and warm love.  The adventuresome wife requested the canoe be brought to higher ground twice that day and ran a flashlight beam over the gleaming aluminum keel more than a few times through the night.

The next morning dawned raining.  Procedures for ferrying a canoe across swift water were reviewed, assurances of  lasting love were exchanged and, with a haughty air of total confidence, they launched and landed and dragged the soaking gear to the campground laundry building.  There they sat for most of another day while phone lines to the park were repaired and a message could be sent to the kind gentleman who had agreed to carry them back to the starting place. 

We tell this tale for comparison to a long and kinda drizzly day spent today in an Airstream with an electric hookup.  Hot Coffee and tea, Pancakes with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, computer time, warm glow of  incandescent lamps, heat from multiple sources, reading and some planning followed by another light meal and it’s time to turn on the electric heating blanket.  The Adventuresome wife still shone a warm beam over the shiny aluminum and the male adventurer felt the company was beyond compare.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Where Airstreams Fear to Tread


Moving Day.  Patty sought out perishables in town and Al cleaned up and packed up.  Neighbors/campers who lived nearby and knew the roads, shook their heads, then scurried over to tell Jim, the camp host, what we had planned and the many reasons that was not something they would do.
Jim sent us off with with a hearty invitation back and did NOT add “if you make it.”  Thanks, Jim.
The climb up Scenic 276 was a repeat of last night, but downhill  was into Haywood county where the road is a tad bit steeper, more twisty and much rougher.  The sign warns “15 MPH next four miles.”  We were in low range, listening to the engine try to brake us, craning our necks around the too-wide window pillars to see if  a vehicle was approaching through our side window…No other traffic behind us…curious. 
When we flattened out, the valley road was pastoral until we passed through the active Main Street of Waynesville.  Now we were on familiar ground.  We slipped out to Cove Creek Road with some Zen-like Satellite Radio soothing us. Climbing steadily up the paved part of the road, we recalled our first trips into Cataloochee Valley when the road surface was not nearly so good.  We noted the National Park signs was unobtrusive, but present.  (In times past, the locals would remove a sign within hours, to keep the secret place secret.). No paving can straighten the curves which are incessant, like a quick paced slalom, but the overhanging edges have been cut back over the years providing a sense of elbow room.  There are great views from the points and there are a couple multi million dollar homes on the prows.  The pavement continues to these places, but stops soon after the double switchback so steep that a dislodged rock would fall through the roof of the home you just passed.

The pig farm isn’t active any more …

and it’s a pity because at this 170 degree climbing turn, there was just enough room for the faint of heart to turn around in despair of ever finding a National Park out THIS road.
Past the junkyard of all heavy equipment ever used in Haywood County and up to the absolutely, we mean it, don’t doubt us five-mile-an-hour turn (where the dog is sleeping in the road), the road turns to gravel.  It’s nicer gravel now, widened in past years, but the drop offs at the edges fall away hundreds of feet and little sticks and makeshift flags mark the cave ins. Here the inside has been tapered back giving a comforting feeling that if you hug the hillside closely and your wheels fall into the drainage, your vehicle will lean cushioned gently against the ferns.

The blind turns start here…

…and remain the main focus of your attention from here out except for the dusty corduroy downhill twisting ever narrowing surface. Soon you crest the Cataloochee Divide marking the entry to the park.  Appropriate warnings are posted, but the promise of pavement ahead leads us on “happily, bumpily, noisily down winding dusty country roads” as the children’s book reminds us. These turns require all your attention, since there is No way to pass in the corner, so it is an act of faith that two vehicles, especially big vehicles or vehicles with elderly sedan drivers won’t enter the turn simultaneously in opposite directions.  We met two, and in both cases we just stood there, a hulking mass of steel and Aluminum,  until they mustered up the courage to creep by our extension mirrors and beyond.  At last, in the middle of nowhere, the smoothly re-paved park road leads us downhill three miles through verdant green, across the creek and into the Campground.  

In seven more days…the return..


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Trout Fishing with Patty

We are camping beneath tall Hemlocks beside a sparkling stream.  I love this place. I caught my first trout here.  I caught it just inside the campsite while succulent young wife lay languorously abed in a Pawney Island Hammock. This was our first venture into “car camping” after years of backpacking and the Hammock was the first concession.  She “always” wanted to do the hammock thing; I just wanted to catch a trout.
She needn’t fish since herself had caught a trout (on corn) on a date when sixteen. She, I was tactfully reminded, was “one up” and had been through the birth and nurture of two, but things were about to change.
When the trout finally took the fly, my SHOUTING must have been drowned out by the stream noises. She was full of enthusiasm as usual, and a new avocation was born –- fishing along streams we had been busy walking along all these years. 
In anticipation of this, I had purchased a sweet little micro light spinning outfit. She played with that for an afternoon,  then appropriated my little fiberglass 6 1/2’ fly rod and has not relinquished it yet. She listened carefully to advice we got at the Little River Outfitters  and followed every bit of it, giving fishing the same focus she gives everything else.  She has, it must be admitted, been trouncing me in the fish catching area for several years now. Despite extra trips on my own, she is still WAY more than “one up” .
We generally fish alone, but nearby, connected with walkie talkies.  I’ve learned that if things go quiet, it is because she is fishing well and doesn’t want to discourage me.  I am still called upon to proffer bookish advice and wisdom, but she does most of the catching.  She doesn’t move around much, never loses her fly and seldom changes even the most non descript “unless I can’t see it anymore.”
On the Davison River last week, we both were into them the first night, but next morning in The Trophy area, she connected with a measured 13 1/2 incher that shut down the whole campground.  She has lost a couple here in the Smokies to bad knots.
“Well,” she explains without a hint of a smile, “I figure that after Soo many fish those things just loosen up.”