NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Not Scary At All

There are a lot of scarecrows on display out here in the Smokies.

The ones with rakes for heads were my favorites for some reason.  Maybe I don't get out enough because I found this ridiculously amusing.

The braided gal with her purse in the shopping village was appropriate.

The crows were playing golf in the diorama I spied in Pigeon Forge.  Traffic didn't cooperate for me to take a shot, so these crows saying "I do" will have to do.

These two sets of happy couples have me scheming to make a pair to represent me and Wayne for next year.  What should we be doing, though?  Yard work? Pitching a tent? I'll have to look around the house for fresh ideas.  Or perhaps I'll do a photography related scene like this one:

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm Lichen Laurel Falls Trail

Let me start off this post with a mini rant.  I'm glad you love your dogs, America, but when the sign clearly says NO DOGS and has a picture of a little dog with a slash through it that means leave your furry friend behind and do not take it with you on the trail.  We counted six dogs on the Laurel Falls trail.  All owners were smiling and acting like nothing was wrong.  Rude.  Maybe I'll just drive my ATV up the path or bring an ax and start chopping down all the trees.  And most of them don't even keep their dog close to them, one dog bounded over and snuffled all over my leg.  I was speechless.  Rant over.

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park and it's not hard to see why.  Compared to most of the other trails it's relatively short at 2.6 miles round trip and the elevation gain is only 314 feet.  The trail is also paved though still bumpy and occasionally uneven with steep drop offs so watch where you walk!

I saw this cute little flower all along the trail.  Anyone know what it is?  Fall color is really starting to pop at the lower elevations too.

A "helpful" gentlemen offered to take my camera and take a shot of me and Wayne in this spot above.  The offer came with stories of all the pictures he's taken for people over the years.  I told him I was trying to set it up so we were between the tree and the rock outcropping with both visible in the shot.  He took 3 different shots before I let him off the hook.  The one below is the closest he got, the other 2 the rock wasn't even visible and we were blurry in all of them.  This is why I usually decline offers to have others take our picture and carry a tripod instead.  It's a bitch being picky.


While waterfalls are great and all, I was more enthusiastic about the lichen variety along the trail.

Talk about fall color!  These lichens rivaled the leaves and will last all year long.  But, the waterfall was nice too.  A walkway splits the upper and lower levels of the falls, and of course flow is a little low this time of year.

Great views of the Smokies but this week the color is really popping in this area.  Some areas are still mostly green, like the hike I did a couple of days ago with Sharon from the blog Gains & Losses.  More on that later!

 Today we leave for a few days in the Cumberland Falls area of Kentucky on our way home.  There are a few post office murals in the area that I'm looking forward to checking out! 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

West Prong of the Little Pigeon River


At this time of year a day can make a big difference.  Here is a view of the Pigeon River from the bridge at the Chimney Tops trailhead on Tuesday last week.

And here it is the next day on Wednesday.

Wednesday was chilly and breezy, playing havoc with the fall foliage.  We stopped for a few photos in the river on our way to Cataloochee to see the elk.

I thought I was being careful on my way back, but I stepped on what I thought was some leaves on top of the ground and my foot slid right into cold water.

Wayne got to laugh at my surprise.  Things like this always happen to me.  Even the other foot got a little wet when I tried to catch my balance from the shock of it.  Oh, well.  I wasn't dismayed enough to miss seeing the pretty lichen on the rock as we exited the river.

Back in the truck I came up with a new use for my gorillapod.  It works great as a sock dryer!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Flora and Fauna, Cherokee Bears Project

Thought I'd share a mural from the road this week.  Like other towns, Cherokee, North Carolina wanted to highlight their local artists and began the Cherokee Bear Project in 2005.  I took some pictures of three of the bears, you'll have to see the others for yourself!  This first one is called "Flora and Fauna" and the artist is Nikki Nations.

Still unable to link to Mural Monday since I'm on the road, find today's murals by going to .

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Work It...Work It!

I don't know if it's a guy thing or if it's just Wayne and I'm the lucky recipient of his special "sense of humor".  Sometimes I wonder if he ever has a serious thought in his head.  There we were, almost at the summit of the Chimney Tops Trail.  I asked him to take a picture of me admiring the view since I seldom have someone else along to get shots of me.

Almost every time I make this mistake and hand the camera to him, he decides it's an opportunity to become a fashion photographer.  He snaps away like crazy, even shouting out loud , "Work it!  Work it!"

The couple approaching behind us were European and their English wasn't good enough to get the joke.  We got some weird glances.  Who knows what they were thinking.  Luckily I don't embarass easily.

Lots more posts on the Smokies to come this week...keep checking back!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cataloochee Elk Viewing

My ankles were still a bit sore after our hike up and then down the Chimney Tops Trail so on Wednesday we needed a sit-down plan.  Ever since we were in the park last year we wondered about the elk viewing in Cataloochee.  So we loaded up the truck and we headed over the mountain.  Our first stop was the Visitor Center where I bought a copy of "Hiking Trails of the Smokies".  Outside a park employee was showing visitors the difference between the summer and winter hides of elk.

From there we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Maggie Valley exit and had lunch at Maggie Valley Restaurant before heading into Cataloochee Valley.  Food was mediocre even though the parking lot was jam packed.  Any tips for quality food near the park are appreciated!  We didn't have much luck in Gatlinburg last year, but we did try the Firefly Cafe in Townsend and give it a thumbs up.  Mostly we cook ourselves, but long days auto touring require a lunch stop.

The turnoff to Cove Creek Road is right before the I-40 exit and it wasn't long before we had reached the gravel road into the park. It's a little wider than one lane, but most of the tight curves are blind so take it super slow and easy!

Once you arrive at the entrance things are a lot smoother going, but the road is still very narrow and not everyone parks where they should.  Some people think it's okay to haul over to the side as long as they are a foot over the edge of the road.  That's fine for your average sized car to get by, but we are in a Chevy 3500 and in addition to being wide we make wide turns on curves so if you don't want your car pushed off the road quit parking it where you feel like instead of in designated areas!  My biggest problem with these rule breakers is that I have to hear Wayne grumping about it over and over all day long.  Maybe I should invest in ear plugs and then just nod along.

Worried you won't see the elk if you make the trip?  Not likely since they were all over the place at 3:00 in the afternoon.  I told Wayne I was a bit disappointed because they seemed hemmed in and were wearing collars.  Too much like going to the zoo for me.  In the Tetons it was a bit more challenging and exciting to see a herd of elk.  Yes, I'm picky.

Not every elk had a collar on, and if it's like the Badlands it may be only the females that they tag.

This young bull seemed fairly calm until he noticed a human in his path.

He only hesitated long enough to make sure the human was staying put before moving on to better grazing.  Visitors are supposed to stay out of the fields, but at this particular spot there is a crossway for a cemetery in the woods to be accessed.

Just as we were preparing to leave this pretty cow posed near the edge of the road for me.

I was happy to get some use out of that lens I rented, but I don't think this is a $75.00 shot, do you?  One thing I've learned from my rental experience is that a 70-200mm lens is not as versatile as I was hoping it would be.

Well, that's it for the elk viewing on this trip.  It was nice on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, but we prefer the larger variety of options on the Tennessee side and wouldn't make RV reservations on the North Carolina side of the park.  For us just a daytrip or two is sufficient, and at this time of year the ride is no hardship with all the fall color to appreciate!

As for Pigeon Forge, we ventured in yesterday and went to the Titanic museum which is the only attraction there that tempted us.  We both were in agreement that it was not worth the time or the money.  You don't see anything you can't see by watching the movie.  The advertising makes it seem as if there will be a lot of artifacts from the salvage of the wreckage, but that is not the way it is at all.  Our opinion is watch the movie, it's more satisfying and much cheaper.

Friday, October 25, 2013

On Chimney Tops Trail Pam Goes Thumpety-Thump, Shakety-Shake

Wayne finally was feeling well enough to try a hike on Tuesday, but when I suggested something a little low-key he insisted on doing Chimney Tops.  Chimney Tops?  You do know that it's a 4 mile round trip hike with a 1350 feet elevation gain, right, Wayne?  I know that might not sound like much to some of you, but for a flatlander like me who just did a similar hike the previous day and for a guy who has back pain....

However, Wayne was not to be deterred, so off we went.  I took 95 pictures, got it down to 56 on my first pass through the group, and now have it down to a respectable 26.  Hope you have your eyes all rested up for the show.

The trail starts off by crossing the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.  Gorgeous? Yeah!  I have a few shots set aside of this spot for another day.  It was so pretty we came back again.

One thing this trail is not short on is stairs.  We climbed up quite a few sections on our ascent.  These stone and wood stair sections were added to help stop erosion of the trail.  They are spaced nicely and didn't cause the knee discomfort that some other stairs have caused us elsewhere.

The trail is packed with plants and trees to admire on your way up, predominantly hemlocks, ferns and rhododendren stand out this time of year.

There are a couple of more bridges before things start getting really steep, enjoy the peaceful spots while you can!

As things got steeper, my heart started going thumpety-thump and at times was beating so hard that I could actually HEAR it in my ears.  I had Wayne stop and put his hand on my chest.  He laughed at me because before we left for this trip I kept telling him he was too out of shape for this kind of terrain.  Guess who's heartbeat I couldn't even find even though he was sweating pretty good?  But maybe that's because mine was beating so hard it just made it hard to find his.  I was, however, encouraged by the regularity of my loud heartbeat.  No arrhythmia anyway!

Our admirable NPS employees were on the job making repairs to the trail and monitoring the trail cams.  We gave them the enthusiastic welcome back to work that is becoming our mantra.  They smiled genuine grins and expressed their joy with their job that lets them spend their days in such a glorious location.

I used the camera as an excuse to stop and rest often.  I even snuck in a kiss or two to slow Wayne down.  All is fair in love and hiking.

By the time I knew we had to be nearing our destination my legs were going shakety-shake along with my heart going thumpety-thump.  The lesson here is you can only prepare so much for elevation when you live in the Midwest.  Imagine if I hadn't tried to prepare at all!

When we were really close to the end the trail narrowed considerably and it was single file.  There was a sign to the right of Wayne in the pic below that said the "trail" was closed for maintenance and to climb the rock surface from that point to reach the top.  Needless to say everyone ignored the sign.  We didn't hear any screams as they fell off the mountain so it wasn't very long before we followed them.

Chimney Tops is one of the few mountains in the Smokies with a bare rock summit

I went as far as the lady to the far right in the above photo.  When the trail ended and scrambling up bare vertical rock began I declared my summit reached.  Wayne soldiered on.  I called him an idiot, but it was too much for someone who climbs electric poles for a living to resist.

My view as I waited for my husband to return or die.

He returned alive and happy with his adventure.  And it was all downhill from there.  Literally.

All downhill sounds great...until your legs start quivering and your ankles start hurting from all that momentum you're trying to resist.  I can hear Linda in Oregon laughing at me now.  She did 14 miles of mountain the other day.

The lady at the bottom of this staircase was wearing a pair of moccasins.  I told her I hoped she wasn't going far in those.  She told me she hikes in them all the time.  Since we weren't that far from the parking lot at that point I hope her idea of hiking is nothing like mine because that was just a sprained ankle waiting to happen!

I can see why Chimney Tops and Alum Cave are among the most popular trails in the park and I'm glad we experienced them.  Now I'm ready to tackle that out of the way gem no one else is taking the time to explore...any suggestions?