Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

Shenandoah National Park

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Trail Days was fun but not all I thought it would be. A lot of the speakers finished off their time by trying to sell something they had made or a book they wrote  And the gear companies were really pushy for the sell. I tried to convey that I was just there to learn and figure out what I should buy, but most of them realized I knew as much as they did about hiking gear and stopped the hard sell rather quickly. All in all, I’m glad I stopped to see the spectacle and check out the latest backpacking gear. 

At the end of the second day in Damascus, the skies opened with pouring rain and wind, chasing everyone to their tents and vehicles. The next morning held the promise of an all day soaker, so I packed up and headed north to Shenandoah National Park. 

In the two days it took to reach Shenandoah (I take scenic back roads through the Blue Ridge Mountains), the weather was clearing and the view along Skyline Drive was beautiful. Drifting clouds and bright sunlight, exposed vast expanses of the valley below.  From numerous pullouts along the ridge line you could see for a hundred miles. 

I spent the night at Big Meadows Campground. Rain came again in the night. It seems like it rains almost every night and sometimes every day; At least it feels like it. What they wouldn’t give for some of this rain out west. 

Karen and I will be hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry, WV, through Maryland, and ending in Pen Mar Park, near the Pennsylvania border. It’s a section filled with history: We will pass through historic Civil War Battlefields.  We will get to see the first Washington Monument. We follow the path of Louis and Clark, early railroads, remains of abandoned canals, and stand on the same rock that Thomas Jefferson spoke from. We are looking forward to spending a few days on the trail, now…if this rain would just go away for a few days.  

Great Smoky Mt. Nat’l Park

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

The Great Smoky Mt. Nat’l Park is an interesting place. For one thing, it has over 800 miles of hiking trails, enough for even the heartiest wanderer. For almost 70 miles the famous Appalachian Trail winds along the loftiest peaks and scenic gaps through the center of the park, tracing with it the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. On warm, sunny weekends the park is swarming with hikers. 

Another reason the park is so popular is because there is no charge to get in. Back when the park was created, a major highway cut through the center of the park, and it was decided that there would never be an admission charged to go through. That’s one of the reasons so many people flock here during the summer. It seemed such a let down to have an Access Pass and not be able to flash it for special treatment. 

On the first day I was here I did my most ambitious, day hike in quite a while. Starting out early in the morning, I walked from Cades Cove campground along Anthony Creek, ascended almost 2000 feet to Russell Field on the AT, and then finished by closing the loop along the summit and back down. It was thirteen and a half miles, not particularly monumental, but with the climb still a good workout. The next day, I took it easy and limited my walk to a five miles hike to Alum Cave. 

Yesterday was my time of sightseeing. The weather has been beautiful. It is unusual to have such clear, sunny, cloudless skies in the Smokies, and every view  from the tops of the mountains was just breathtaking. I joined hundreds of visitors at the Observation Deck on top of Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the Smokies – to views of almost 100 miles. Even the lookouts along the highway afforded spectacular views, and it was hard to even find a place to park. Newfound Gap, where Roosevelt made a famous dedication speech, was equally crowded. 

Later that day I drove to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The road through town was like a parking lot, bumper to bumper traffic amidst swirling pedestrians, waddling from store to attraction to slurpy food booths. There are over 100 motels in Garlinburg alone. The Great Smoky Mt. Nat’l Park is popular, but Gatlinburg is even more popular, proving that when people pack up the kids and go on vacation to a National Park, what they really want is to be able to browse through gift shops, play some miniature golf, and ride a zip line. 

Karen and I have made tentative plans to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail from 5/20 to 5/24. We will be hiking somewhere in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry, WV, so if anyone wants to join us for our backpacking adventure, let me know. 


Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

You know you’ve been in too many caves when you start pointing out different formations and explaining how passages were created to total strangers on a tour.  After two days at Mammoth Cave NP, I have had my fill of underground tunnels for a while. On the second day of my visit, I took a tour called Grand Avenue – a walk of four miles through some of the neatest parts of the cave. It took four and a half hours to walk and even had a lunch break scheduled in the middle. The tour guide – coincidently named Richard – a retired geology and botany professor, was the most knowledgeable and interesting guide I’ve ever seen.  

From there I traveled to Daniel Boone Nat’l Forest and spent a few days hiking the trails by the Rock Castle River. On one trail I came upon a huge snake laying across the path. I reached out and poked it with my hiking pole, assuming it would scurry off into the bushes, but it turned toward me and coiled like it was mad and would strike. Even though it didn’t look poisonous, I let it have the path and detoured way around. 

On Friday, I stopped at a cinema outside of Chattanooga and saw the movie Water For Elephants. It was a good movie and I would recommend it. I had read the book a while back and wanted to see if the film remained faithful to the story. It was pretty close. 

I spent today at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. It is the place where the Appalachian Trail begins in the South. In the early part of next week, and if the weather looks good, I will hike the approach trail to Springer Mountain and the official, southern terminus of the AT. Then it will be off to see the Great Smoky Mountain Nat’l Park. 

Hot Springs

Friday, April 15th, 2011

There is a mosquito in here. I can hear the tiny whine of her fluttering wings as she circles above me in the dark, waiting until I let my guard down, waiting for me to drift off to sleep. I know she’s up there somewhere, but her faint sound gives me little indication or target, even so, I flail and slap at the air in a futil attempt to strike her down. 

It’s too hot to hide under the blankets. I lay mostly naked, clad only in my boxers and socks, exposed flesh ripe and inviting to her blood-thirsty quest. Sometimes I feel the soft tickle and think she has landed. I slap my skin even though I know it’s only a ghost bite, my mind playing paranoid tricks on me.  I know she will win in the end. She will attack when I least expect it. She will take my blood. 

I stayed in Davy Crockett Nat’l Forest for a couple of days. They have some nice hiking trails and bike paths. There was a backpacking trail near there, but it was one of those hikes that starts here and ends 20 miles someplace else. I couldn’t figure out how to do it. 

The next day I visited Hot Springs, Arkansas. This is the place where families go to vacation. There are amusement parks, water parks, wax museums, petting zoos, shopping, dining, you name it!  All the fun you can imagine. 

It started back at the turn of the century. Everyone who was anyone wanted to travel to Hot Springs to bath in the therapeutic and curative natural spring water. Entrepreneurs happily built rows of bath houses, promising to cure all sorts of ailments with there miracle waters. Patrons willingly spent a week or more soaking their afflictions away. 

I toured one restored bathhouse (now under management by the Park Service) and strolled along the path where 140 degree water seeps from the base of a hill. It is very hot! Do you think I put my finger in it?


Monday, April 4th, 2011

What’s this!? I seem to be losing all the hair on top of my head!  I knew that radiation would cause problems with my body. Next, I’ll probably start losing my memory! 

Anyway, I decided to stop at Carlsbad Caverns (I don’t think I’ve ever been there before). Everything looked familiar… must have been a dream I had.  Seriously, it’s just such a neat place I could walk through there every week. Instead of riding the elevator to the top, I walked back up the path to the natural entrance, over a mile in length and 850′ of vertical climb. It’s a good workout but nothing compared to the Grand Canyon. 

Don’t let anyone tell you this country is over crowded. Just drive across Texas. I’ve never seen such miles of nothingness in all of Interstate 10. From Carlsbad to Pecos, to Fort Stockton and beyond, all there is is oil derricks and wind turbines, scattered along rolling hills as far as the eye can see.  I guess it’s one of those landscapes that grow on you, but I long for a tree or river. 

I may head for Corpus Christi in a few days. I don’t think I’ve ever been on the Texas coast.