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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grapeyard Ridge to Injun Creek -There's Bear in Them Thar Woods!

We've been home for five days now, and our adventures exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are behind us...for now. We plan on getting back in a year or two in the fall to check out more trails in the Greenbrier area, and get down to the Cataloochee area of the park as well. I'm a little nervous about how crowded it might be with fall color going on, but we'll just have to plan in advance and maybe stay off the main roads on the weekend.

I do have one more adventure from our trip to relate! On our last day in Tennessee it was raining a little and Wayne wasn't feeling up to a hike so I went by myself. I had been wanting to hike out to Injun Creek and time had run out. I packed all my camera equipment, slung my tripod over my shoulder, dressed in layers, grabbed my water sandals for creek crossings and headed out to the Grapeyard Ridge trailhead. The first 20 minutes were a pretty steady uphill slog, but then it leveled out a little and alternated between level and a slight incline. I settled into an easy pace on this deserted trail and was so happy to be on an that would have a surprising ending!


The hiking guide had said there were multiple creek crossings, and when I came upon the first one I thought I might never need my sandals if they were going to be that small!  The second one was a little wider, and I took my tripod across first in case it was slippery or the water was fast. I wasn't risking my camera after having just gotten it back in working order!

The creek was mostly sandy and was only a little more than ankle deep. This ended up being typical of the remaining crossings, six in all. The trail changed a lot as it continued along the ridge. There were sections of rhododendren forest that were like walking through secret tunnels, and other areas of hardwood forest that were fairly open.

 At about 40 minutes into the hike I crossed the creek again, and then came into an open area full of trillium. I stopped to take a look around at the wildflowers, and was pleasantly surprised to find two red trilliums just a few feet off the trail.

Trillium Vaseyi flowers hang below the three leaves of the plant unlike the other trillium varieties we had been seeing in the park.

The climb continued. I stopped occasionally to photograph wildflowers and lichen, and looked around for remnants of old homesteads, but all I noticed was this rock wall along the trail.

I'd been hiking a long time and was starting to think I'd missed Injun Creek when I came around the bend at the bottom of a hill and there it was! Injun Creek is notable because it contains the remains of a steam engine tractor that went off the ridge and into the creek.  It was used to pull logs out of the park when they were sawing lumber for a new school in 1920. All that remains is the boiler and two wheels. 

When it fell off the trail the driver jumped free and no one was hurt. It sure has held up well for being in water and out in the weather for over 90 years! 

I just loved the browns and green mixed with the water from the creek and stood in the water for about 45 minutes getting different angles and exposures with the tripod.  I wish I could find more hikes like these. Gone for 3 and a half hours at this point with no cell phone service. It was time to wrap it up and start heading back even though it was so hard to tear myself away! 

Knowing it was getting late and with the temperatures dropping into the 40's I kept up a hard pace on the way back even though my shoulders were tired from carrying all my equipment and my legs were starting to feel like jelly. About 20 minutes into my hike back I crossed  a creek barefoot, having given up on changing shoes since I knew the next three crossings were close together.

 When I got to the other side I stopped in my tracks. A log was shredded all over the trail. I KNOW that wasn't like that when I came through! I had carefully looked for bear scat and marks on trees!

 I took a picture, then stepped backward...into bear poop! Heart pounding, I grabbed my gear and started walking as quickly as was safely possible on a wet downhill trail. I knew the next creek crossing was just a few seconds ahead and waited until then to clean my feet and put my shoes back on. To let bears know of my presence I started pounding my kneeling pad against the tripod around my neck. I kept this up for the next 40 minutes, hoping I didn't come upon a bear at every turn. When I was only about 10 minutes from the trailhead I came upon an upright tree that had been marked quite heavily as well. I wanted an adventure, but I was glad I hadn't come around a bend at any point and seen an actual bear instead of these signs that we were sharing a trail that afternoon!

And now...I'm home, and life is boring and completely without threat of bear. So, today I'm signing off and scooting over to Volo Bog, hoping to at least catch sight of a muskrat!


  1. I wish I had the nerve to walk trails by myself, but I don't.... so I really enjoy hiking vicariously through your blog. And my knees don't even hurt when we get back ;-)

    1. The next day was our long travel day...for a change I was thrilled to sit in the truck for 8 hours! Lots of rest, ice and tylenol were involved! I feel lucky to have spent so much time around my husband who knows alot about animal "signs". When we were in Moab he spotted mountain lion tracks two different days while I was daydreaming through my camera lens. He also carries my camera equipment for me, and best of all has more patience waiting for me than I would have if the roles were reversed!

  2. You're a lucky lady to have him! And to enjoy such great adventures. Glad you didn't spot the bear, or he you. Wonderful photos!

  3. I see we were in the Smokies at about the same time; I'll come back to check out more of your posts; in the meantime, I wanted to say thanks for stopping by and commenting on my 'rant'.