Happy Mother’s Day

Actually, my Mother’s Day was all weekend.  I started on Saturday by sleeping in.  Rich got up with Sascha to put her out, but that was just his excuse to go fishing.  It was a beautiful morning and he had made bait the night before.  He was ready for this.

I woke up to no dog or no Rich. I knew right away that he finally got out there on the banks of the mighty Fox River to try his luck.  That was fine.  It meant a quiet morning for me.  I got my coffee and headed to the couch to read the paper in peace.  I did check on Sascha, but she was totally ignoring in case I wanted her to come in.

Today, I was getting my Mother’s Day flowers for the deck and patio.  This is what I ask for every year.  It’s simple and it’s something I truly want.  I rousted Rick from his bed to go and be my labor for the day.  This meant I had to feed him breakfast.  Oh wait, he is a working stiff as of Monday, so he took me to breakfast.  We went out to Island Café.  As soon as we stepped in the door, Rachel looks around and asks where he is.  Who?  Oh yeah, Rich.  I assured her he was doing something else and it would just be two.  Throughout breakfast, everyone asked where Rich was.  I didn’t realize he was so popular.

Then it was off to Castle Gardens to pick out my flowers for the year.  I had been planning for this and had decided on the flowers I wanted.  On the road just past the Volo Auto Museum, the fire department had the road shut down.  The Gardens were just on the other side.  This meant that we had to snake through the roads in the tiny town of Volo.  The fire appeared to be a field right next to the nursery.

Once we go there and got a wagon, we headed up the hill to the annuals.  I said I wasn’t going to wonder around, but I lied apparently.  I walked up and down the rows looking at the colors.  Finally, I did settle on purple and yellow jump ups, purple and white alyssum, white snapdragons, red and yellow snapdragons, and purple variegated petunias.  I wanted some other things, but decided to wait on those.

It was back to the house.  Rich was just getting back from fishing with his prize.  It was one lonely, rather large carp.  He had a story to go with it.  Apparently, he caught the fish after it took his bite and was trying to make its escape.  It was a good sized fish.  So we left Rich with his carp since my running wasn’t over.

I still had to go to the grocery store for the week’s load of good eats.  Rick went with me.  I like the company and the help.  He had ulterior motives though.  As I said, Rick is starting work on Monday and he wanted to pick up some things for lunches next week.  I saw the dollar signs stretching out in a straight line and the pinch on my wallet.

The grocery store was nuts!  Who knew that Mother’s Day weekend was the biggest holiday of the year.  It was worse than Christmas and Super bowl.  I think it was because the weather was going to be so gorgeous and people were planning to grill out.  You don’t always get that at Mother’s Day in the Midwest.

Finally back home, Rich was done carving up the carp for dinner.  There were fish scales all over the yard.  We unloaded the groceries and put everything away.  Now it was time for me to get busy with those gorgeous flowers.  Dinner was a couple of hours off.  I might just get this done.

I have the flower boxes on the deck to fill along with three pots that I keep up there for more color.  The sun was warm and the wind was nice.  I worked around first to remove the old and dead leftovers from last summer.  Then I arranged my flowers in order along the top of the seats.  After that, it was all fun and dirt.  I finished up in good time.  That left the pots along the patio.  I arranged what I had left to decide the best coverage.  They came out with a very stunning look.  I was very pleased with my work.

That was enough for the evening.  Rich started up the burner and we prepared dinner.  Rich was going to fry up a mess of hushpuppies before doing the fish.  I found a recipe and started creating.  The mix was easy and tasted good before they went into the fryer.  But they were so much better after they came out.  A variation of fried dough is always good.  Even the crispies were delicious.  Dinner was excellent.  Nothing like getting the food yourself.

I’m not obsessed with finding out as much as possible about the next connections that I’ve made in the Zurek family tree.  Through more records, I’m finally able to identify Joseph Zurek, Rich’s great-grandfather, in the records and correlate his claimed hometown in Poland.  Rudy Rysie seems like an interesting name.  I found it on the map of Poland. It is about where I thought it might be, between Krakow and Tarnow.  The village is still there.  I can open a street view through Google.  It’s cute and reminds me of many German villages.

I tried looking through some Polish genealogy sites.  I don’t find much, but not being able to read Polish kind of hurts my efforts also.  I just need to find the church records for this part of Poland.  I see a Joseph Zurek, but he is three years too young.  The mother’s name is right though.

I did manage to find the immigration record where Joseph Zurek from Rudy Rysie, Poland came through Ellis Island.  He came from Bremen, Germany to New York.  It shows that his mother was Marya.  Now I at least have one parents’ name.  I had found a Civil Registration card for what would have been the Selective Service around the time of WWI for Joe.  I have a general description of him.  This also listed his hometown as Rudy Rysie.

See, I can get really obsessed with this stuff.  But it’s 9:00 by this time.  I had asked Rich to make me up a mint julep.  We had plenty of mix left from the party.  I just need the ice to melt into the mix a little before I can drink it.  Rick wants to try a taste.  He doesn’t really like bourbon, but he thinks it’s pretty good.  We settle in to watch an episode of “Father Brown.”  I like English detective shows and this one is quirky and cute.  Apparently, it was an inspiration for Agatha Christie as well.

The night is pretty over by now.  We watch a couple of other things and I start to think about ready.  I’m finishing up an Agatha Christie tonight and moving on to the next book.  Sascha has only been nagging us to go to bed since 8:00, as usual.

That takes us to Sunday morning now.  I get up first and handle the dog duties, which includes grabbing the Sunday paper.  Coffee gets made to help me wake up and to enjoy while reading the paper.  Sascha decides to stay outside since it is so nice.  Pretty soon, Rich gets up and heads for coffee.  Rick finally gets up.  After making it through the comics, he heads to kitchen to make breakfast.  We have Sascha’s favorite, corned beef hash and eggs.  Maybe that’s because she does expect to get a share in her bowl.

Rich and I decide to head out and get some supplies to work in the yard.  The winter was hard on the roses.  Rich lost a couple.  I want to get herbs to grow this year as well as tomatoes to add to the garden.  We head to Ace first, but we just don’t find what we want.  Over at Home Depot, it’s crazy.  We do find everything we want.  After loading up, we head for home.

I start working on the flower bed off the patio.  I’m putting my tomatoes and herbs in this bed for the summer.  I’m just hoping Sascha stays out of it.  She loves to dig when the soil is loose.  I find I have room for more herbs.  I just need to figure out what I can add.

Rich is around front digging up the dead roses and replanting with the new ones.  He sees that not all of the dead ones are totally devastated.  Problem is, will they really survive?  Better safe than sorry and just put in the new roses.  The new roses are grandifloras.  These are really huge blooms.  They should add to the bed with the rest of the roses.  Then it’s time to put down the Moo-Nure.  I love the name.  The picture of the cow on the front is cute.

I get the patio bed finished and move on to the garden on the side of the house.  The garlic mustard plants are taking over.  And they smell to high heaven when you disturb them.  Well, they have to come out.  They are right in the way of planting my other flowers.  Here I’m doing some seeds and bulbs.  I plant zinnias for Rich.  I have Bachelor Buttons and Anemones for the fence.  I have to find a spot for my Dahlias.  Unfortunately, I’m finding so many of my plants didn’t survive.  The daisies are gone.  So I clean out the bed and put the Dahlias there.  My butterfly bush looks like it is dead.  I have to start all over again!

While I’m working, Rich comes around to dig up two of the roses that survived along that side of that house.  He moves to the front where I have some space for them.  More of that Moo-Nure goes in and the smell is a little overpowering.  But I guess it’s not as bad as the grass in the compost pile.  It really smells this year.

I convince Rick to come out and burn all of the wood, sticks, and other burnables.  The pile is huge and it is threatening to keep growing.  He agrees and gets the whole thing going.  It burns really fast.  I guess the amount of rot is pretty good.  Before you know, Rick announces he is done and heading back in to his computer.  Really?  It’s a beautiful day out here.

Did I speak too soon?  After dinner the clouds start to thickening and rain looks like it is moving in.  Sascha must hear thunder from a long way away.   She cowers under Rich’s desk.  The lightning and thunder start up pretty good.  Rick attempts to get the trash out before the rain and doesn’t make it.  The garbage can is out, but the recycling will have to wait.  It pours down.  I go out to the garage to watch the storm with Rick.  We see some hail, but not much.  Then the second wave comes in.  This time the hail is pea-sized and quite a bit of it.  The storm finally passes and the sun comes back out.

For one final Mother’s Day taste, Rich is making rhubarb upside down cake.  I saw this in the morning paper and it sounded good.  Rich wants to do something with his rhubarb.  It sounded like a good thing to try.  We’ll see when it comes out of the oven and cools off a bit.

So tomorrow is back to the grind.  Rick starts up his job in the bay preparing the hardware for the engineers to stage systems.  The weather sound like spring:  a little warm with showers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and role models for us all.

One of the deck boxes with the flowers planted.
One of the deck boxes with the flowers planted.
I love the smell of the alyssum while sitting on the deck.
I love the smell of the alyssum while sitting on the deck.
Snapdragons, jump ups, and alyssum on deck.
Snapdragons, jump ups, and alyssum on deck.
My bleeding heart by the hot tub survived and was blooming this weekend.
My bleeding heart by the hot tub survived and was blooming this weekend.
The pots on the patio with their color.
The pots on the patio with their color.
There's the carp that Rich caught on Saturday morning.
There’s the carp that Rich caught on Saturday morning.
That's an ugly face.
That’s an ugly face.
Sascha always gets excited when there is fish to fillet.
Sascha always gets excited when there is fish to fillet.

 

Getting the oil up to temperature.
Getting the oil up to temperature.
And the hushpuppies go into the grease.
And the hushpuppies go into the grease.
Rich pulling the golden hushpuppies out of the fryer.
Rich pulling the golden hushpuppies out of the fryer.
Rich preparing the carp for the fryer.
Rich preparing the carp for the fryer.
Fish fry is ready.
Fish fry is ready.
Sascha is trying to be patient for dinner.
Sascha is trying to be patient for dinner.
Rick was learning to drive Sally on Saturday.  He didn't kill it once.
Rick was learning to drive Sally on Saturday. He didn’t kill it once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derby Party 2014

This year’s Derby celebration was going to be very scaled back.  There was no fresh Zurekbrau available due to the effects of the polar vortex.  It was just never warm enough out there to brew beer!  With freezing temps, it was hard to be exposed, standing on cold concrete, and trying to use water without risking frostbit.

On Friday night, I made margarita popsicles.  I gathered the ingredients and combined them into a pitcher so I could pour the mix into Dixie cups.  One of the last steps is to cut a lime into slices as garnish and to help hold the stick in place while it freezes.  As soon as I started cutting limes, Sascha’s nose went to work.  She was standing on top of me and nosing my leg.  She really, really wanted a slice of lime.  Or maybe it was nice aroma of tequila that she found attractive.

I finished up the leftovers in the pitcher after I filled as many cups as I could.  I wanted to make sure there were enough.  Why was I going to freeze this wonderful concoction?  I should just serve it like this!  I placed the limes on top with a stick in each cup.  Once adorned, I placed them into the carefully prepared shelf in the freezer to await the presentation during the celebration.

After the bowling banquet, Rich came home to start seasoning ribs, chicken and brisket.  Wow!  The slab of packer’s cut was more than 12 lbs.  It was a beautiful cut of meat.  As Rich was applying the rub, he was shaking it all over the floor.  Don’t worry, Sascha was right there to clean it up.  All I could think was that was going to hurt on the other end tomorrow.

So with ribs, chicken, and brisket seasoned and packaged, we were ready to get started in the morning.

Derby Day dawned pretty well.  There was a little sunshine and very little sign of rain.  Rich had gotten up at 5:00 to start the BBQ pit for the meats.  Sascha, of course, had to get up also.  She trotted around with Dad.  After the brisket had been added to the pit, Rich headed back to bed.  That meant Sascha had to come in also, which she fought.  She loves being outside when it is her kind of weather.

Rich had a bucket of wood chips by the pit.  These are part of his secret.  He has a mix of hickory, cherry, and oak chips to help give the meat a little extra flavor.  Sascha also found them very flavorful.  She was sneaking chips out of the bucket to chew on them.  When Rich tried to take them away, she actual growled at him!

At 7:00, Sascha had to get up and go back outside.  That meant that I had to get up.  Now Sascha didn’t want out because she had business to take care of.  She had to go out because the sun was up and shining.  That’s just how things work in Sascha’s world.

Since I was up, I started coffee and moving around to get things ready.  As always, we wait to do so many things at the last minute.  We cleaned up around the house and started getting out the items to help make a party.

Over the course of the day, Rich would go out and check the temperature of the pit and add more wood or chips.  As soon as he walked out there, Sascha would come running to help do the check.  Personally, I think she was hoping he would move the bucket of wood chips over so she could reach them.  Rich had made a mop, which is the sauce used to keep the meat moist and help give it that burnt skin.  It sounds funny to mop the BBQ, but it literally is a really small mop like you use on the floor to apply the liquid.  The smoker stay up to temp and the meats were getting down right on time.

Around 2:00, I looked out to see Rich sitting in his chair on the patio with a red solo cup of Zurekbrau.  I know I said there wasn’t any fresh beer, but there was a little bit of Husky Paws on tap.  Sascha was hanging on Rich’s lap trying to sneak beer out of his cup.  She can be very cute when she wants something.  I tried to take a picture, but I just wasn’t fast enough.

Tyler, one of Rick’s friends, was the first guest to arrive.  I love Tyler and I don’t see him as much these days.  Kim and Diane arrived not long after that followed by a few other people.  Rich started bringing up ribs for an appetizer, but the other meats were ready also.  Soon, we had a full on dinner set out.  With baked beans, potato salad, slaw, and the sides brought by the guests, we were filling plates.  The brisket melted in your mouth and the ribs fell right off the bone.  Oh my gosh!  It was wonderful.

I wasn’t sure about doing pots to draw for Derby horses, but Kim insisted that it would be more fun.  I had made up three pots, but we only got through two of them.  You really need to have a bunch of people there to make it easier.  There were 19 horses in the field and that takes a lot of dollars to make a pot.  We each had a horse or four in our hands by the start of the race.

We sat down in front of the TV and watched the race.  I explained how things worked and answered questions.  It’s really a lot of show and pageantry to the Derby.  One of the things I miss about being down there.  The three weeks leading up to the race are busy and always something going on.

In the end, Diane and Barb Doty cleaned up on the first and second places.  Rich and Mike got the third place horses.  It was a slow race this year without the excitement of past years, but it was cool to watch.  I guess in the end, it was no surprise that California Chrome won.  I was hoping for Hoppertunity, but he scratched early.

We continued to eat and talk after the race.  Barb, Mike, and Josh left to prepare for a night at the drive-in.  Before you know it, the clock said 7:00 and people started to leave.  We got down to just Spank for a while before he headed off.  He was leaving for a fishing trip the next morning bright and early.

We put in on picking up what absolutely needed to get down.  I started the dishwasher with one load and stacked the next load to be ready and waiting.  Sascha was sacked out from her exhausting day.  We settled into some TV before bed.

Sunday morning came way too early and Sascha wanted to go out when the sun was just coming up.  I got up, but not very willingly.  Coffee got started and I sat down with the morning paper.  The guys straggled out little by little.  Unfortunately, Rick woke up with a sinus thing going on.  Not too surprising with the weather.  Hopefully, it’s not a cold that the rest of us will catch.

We went out to Brunch to get breakfast.  I love this place, but it is a little crazy.  Everyone wants to eat there.  Luckily, we didn’t have to wait in line too long.  We came back and continued to clean up the house.  Rich worked on cleaning up the pit, with Sascha’s help.  She has to lick the grates and parts of the smoker.  Then there is the grease that drips down on the gravel.  I’m surprised she doesn’t eat any of the rocks.

So this year’s Derby party is in the bag and the cleanup is complete.  Have to think about whether to do this again next year.  Maybe we should not have a party and just go to New Orleans for Jazz and Heritage Festival.  Might be fun to do something different for once.

Rick and Sascha hanging out on Friday.
Rick and Sascha hanging out on Friday.
That's a sweet face.
That’s a sweet face.
Margarita popsicles.
Margarita popsicles.
Sascha was paying close attention as Rich was prepping the ribs.
Sascha was paying close attention as Rich was prepping the ribs.
Sascha enjoys her cuddle time with Rich.
Sascha enjoys her cuddle time with Rich.
Rich and Sascha enjoy their morning ritual on Saturday.
Rich and Sascha enjoy their morning ritual on Saturday.
Rich needed to move things around to get the most of the fire.  Rick helps by holding the brisket.
Rich needed to move things around to get the most of the fire. Rick helps by holding the brisket.
Rick holds the brisket while Rich tries to put it back on the pit.
Rick holds the brisket while Rich tries to put it back on the pit.
Diane always has a crazy hat for the Derby Party.
Diane always has a crazy hat for the Derby Party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday Celebrations

Joy and I noticed some others celebrate their birthday for days.  Justine did 28 days of Justine and Sara celebrates for two weeks before and after her birthday.  Since we are older we needed to scale that back a little.  Anyway I would like to thank Joy for making the days around my birthday wonderful.  Here are the details.

Wednesday April 9th, the Birthday eve was celebrated at a place called The Beer Market. Thy have a very extensive beer selection.  There where twenty beers on tap.  I sampled all the IPAs, a couple of Wiessens, and one bottle of Samichlaus. The Samichlaus was their most potent offering.  I remember reading about this beer ten years ago, but never thought I would get to try it.  Well, it is very strong.  The body was full and on the sweet side.  It is a good thing that is was sweet or the alcohol taste would have been overwhelming. Lizet, a coworker, really enjoyed the Lindemans Framboise they had on tap. She and I share a birthday.  I have worked with a few people that share my birthday.  Joy drove me home the Beer Market so I could really do a good sampling.

Joy Commentary:  Rich definitely enjoyed his night out at The Beer Market.  We had good company and food for the evening.  It was several beers and  five and half hours of fun.  Good thing I drove though.

Thursday was a little slower for some reason.  Joy and I went to the DMV so I could renew my license.  She was worried that it would take a long time, but the DMV in Woodstock is ranked number one in customer service. They are very busy, but extremely efficient.  I was out of there in 20 minuets. I then washed my truck.  Then I was allowed to open my gifts. They gave me a metal work bench, diamond plate peg board, a stress toy that says Boss on it, a collection of gourmet salts, and Vietnamese Cinnamon. For dinner, we went to the best BBQ place in McHenry County.  It is called BBQ King. They are located just off the square in Woodstock.  It’s a busy place.

Joy Commentary:  Who know that a DMV could be so exciting.  From the time you walk in the door until you leave, they keep you moving.  Of course, I discovered it was a great place to people watch.  In the 20 minutes there, I got 5 or 6 good stories on my observations.

Friday is my Bowling Day.  Joy joined me at bowling followed by a visit to Sports Page, our favorite sports bar.  They have the best Buffalo Chicken Wings.  She also got me Birthday Donuts for work.  In my old group, people would bring in donuts for their birthday.  I am trying that idea out on my new group.  I am not sure if it will stick.  They just don’t seem to eat that much.

Saturday, we finished the Birthday celebrations at the Schnitzel Platz.  Bob Beilfuss and Hank Mitchell were playing popular German fest music. This went well with the fine German food and Dunkle Wiessen we where drinking. Even Ricko was enjoying the food and music.  He was our designated driver for the evening.  He did a fine job of getting us back home after the festivities.

Another shout out to Joy for making the past week very special.

Joy Commentary:  Think he’ll remember all of this when it’s my birthday?  Happy birthday, darling.  Glad you enjoyed it.  Sorry, but I could resist the urge to edit the content a bit.

Great day for a hike

It was a gorgeous day out there today.  We continue to try and keep up our hiking.  And today was made for a good hike.  We enjoy hiking a lot and it’s healthy.  While over vacation, we decided to try and keep up with some long walks and hikes.  Rich and I lost about 10 lbs a piece over vacation on our hikes.  Seems like a good thing to keep up with.

Originally, it was going to be the three musketeers.  Then Rick got a better offer to go and have lunch with some of his friends.  We always tell him to be social, if possible.  After breakfast, we dropped Rick off at the house and gathered our camelbaks for the hike.  Since we didn’t know if dogs were welcomed on the trails, we left Sascha behind.

Last week, we went to Volo Bog and wished we had packed the baks.  We had water bottles, but a little more would have been helpful.  The baks give us somewhere to stow jackets when it warms up.  It’s also nice to take a sip as you walk when you need it.  I’d say it was one of the best investments we made in equipment.

Glacial Park is about 20 minutes north of us.  This is an example of what the glaciers did in the area as they pushed south.  All the rock, dirt, and debris were pushed out in front of the moving mass of ice.  At the park, there is an excellent example of a kame, which is the large hill of debris just in front of the glacier.  At the back of the park, you can climb Camelback kame and overlook the valley on both sides.

The area was a homestead for farmers who settled here in the early 1800s.  Their original house, barns, and other outbuildings are still standing on the property.  The park invites you to walk the trails during the good weather along with horseback riding.  During the winter, the trails allow you to snowmobile or cross country ski.

Today, we were walking the trails.  We started out at the main barn and just above the amphitheater.  We headed to the kame first.  The climb up the hill is relative easy.  We came across a set of grandparents out with their grandkids.  The kids were young enough to make the hike seem hard.

From the top of kame, you can look west and look out over the Nippersink valley.  The Nippersink Creek winds its way gently through the grassy meadows.  The Prairie Path runs through the valley as it runs north to Wisconsin.  The valley was green and lush at this time of year.  The trees have hardly started to change and the grasses are still very green.

Walking along the top of the kame, the path is wide and pounded down.  The gravel kicks up easily in the dirt.  The path is cut through the tall grasses and ground cover.  Sumacs grow in places and their leaves are red and shiny.

The other side of the hill is steep and very gravelly.  Rich slips a couple of times going down.  I’m overly cautious because I don’t want to land on my face.  I side step down to prevent having an accident.  My legs burn again.  Going down is so hard on the upper thighs.  Downhill is my  least favorite way to go on a hill or mountain.

We continue on the trail.  At one of the overlooks with a bench, we come on an older couple with their dogs.  Yes, we did see the sign that told us it was okay to have your dogs on the trail.  One of the dogs was blond and small.  The other was most definitely a beagle, that didn’t bay.  I stop to pet both dogs and talk to their owners.

Back on the trail, we head down the Coyote Loop.  This adds another .75 miles to the 1.5 miles on the Deer Path trail we are on.  Just a good stretch of the legs.  We circle around to the outer edge of the park on the south and can see the farm land adjacent to the park.  We walk over the rolling hills and through the oak grove.

At the end of the Coyote Loop, we come out at the parking lot.  From here, we jump to the Kettle Bog trail.  This trail lets you walk a boardwalk through the actual bog.  It starts out easily and you can see the path, but it quickly it overgrown and just a single path through the tall grasses and other growth related to a bog.  The ground squishes and the boardwalks are floating above a bed of mosses.

We head back down the Bog trail through the tall grasses.  I look down at my feet and see a small snake just at the toe of my right shoe.  I screech to a halt and almost throw my shoulder out of the socket.  The snake is fast and darts into the tall grass before I get a good look at it.  I assume it is a garter snake with its dark brown scales and yellow pinstripes.

Rich totally missed seeing the snake slither away from him.  Now we see them leaving the trail pretty quickly ahead of us.  They all seem to be out sunning themselves on this nice day.  We see one snake that is over 12 inches long.  This must be a very healthy population.

One more hill stands before us as we head to the end of the trail.  This hill takes up back to the top of the kames.  We inch our way up slowly.  With sore legs, it is a little harder than when we started out.  We make it to the top and over to the amphitheater.  The parking lot is just ahead.

We unpack our gear and stretch our legs before climbing into the car.  We have one stop at the store before heading home.  Rich is making Coq au Vin for dinner today.  A nice warm and cozy meal just tops off the day.

Rich out on the top of the kame.
Rich out on the top of the kame.
Path on the top of the kame.
Path on the top of the kame.

 

Rich standing out on the bog trail.
Sweeping view from the kame down into the valley and farmland.
Sweeping view from the kame down into the valley and farmland.
View to the Nippersink Valley with the creek and Prairie Path.
View to the Nippersink Valley with the creek and Prairie Path.

 

Rich standing out on the bog trail.
Rich standing out on the bog trail.

Vacation: Day 10 Heaven in the Hill

That day came.  Time to leave our cabin hanging on the mountain.  We had a great week in the Smoky Mountains, but we have to return home to make money to pay for it all.  Why does everything cost money?

We wake up early and start moving around the place.  We packed the night before, so it’s a matter of getting things into the car.  Then we clean up after ourselves.  One last time, we look out at the mountains from our porch.  I know I’ll miss this.

We lock up the cabin and drive down the mountain.  We head toward Pigeon Forge for breakfast.  The Log Cabin Pancake House is highly recommended for its country ham and gravy breakfast.  Rich gets that and I just get the standard bacon and eggs.  Oh yeah, I get the grits too.  I am in the south, you know.

With both our tanks and the car’s tank full, it is time to make our way out of town and up the road to Louisville.  We get to Dollywood Blvd and turn right.  We get out to Veteran’s Blvd.  This is a new road that gets you out of town without having to go down the main drag.  Now why didn’t we hear about this last Saturday when we came into town!  At least it didn’t take us an hour to get out this time.

We drive to I-75 and head north.  The drive is pretty and the traffic isn’t too bad.  We get to Rt 150 in Livingston, KY and head over to Bardstown.  Oh yeah, it’s time to do another distillery on the Bourbon Trail.  The drive is beautiful through a very rural part of Kentucky.  We go through Perryville and so want to stop and see the Civil War battlefield.  But time is short.  We move on to our destination.

Just outside of Bardstown, we go to the Heaven Hill Distillery.  We arrive just in time for one of the Deluxe Tour.  This is a walking tour.  That’s great.  After hours in the car, walking is a nice change of pace.  We walk out of the Bourbon Heritage Center and across the road to the Y barrel house.  We hear the spiel about barrels, bourbon, and bottling.  The barrel house smells so good.  All the wood, time, and bourbon just create the right aroma.

We wonder through the ricks of barrels.  We get to smell the bourbon still in an actual barrel while it sits in the rick.  The line of the tour snakes past and everyone walks away with a smile on their faces.  At the end of the tour in the barrel house, we see a line of trophy barrel that represent high points in production.  The latest addition is the one millionth barrel.  It joins others in the front rick and will continue to be joined by others while production continues.

Outside the barrel, Alan (our tour guide) points out the collection of large and small barrels that make up a comical figure.  He calls the figure Bucky the bucking barrel bull.  The sign beside him says, “No bull, just bourbon.”  Bucky doesn’t look like a character, but he is supposed to be one.

We head back to the Heritage Center and conclude the tour.  No, wait, we have to do the tasting!  We go into Parker Beam Tasting Barrel.  Parker is the current distiller and his son, Craig, is the assistant distiller.  That is Beam you see on the end of their name.  Beam as in Jim Beam.  When you are one of five sons, you sometimes have to go out and find a real job somewhere else.  Fortunately, it was just right down the road from home.

The bar in the Tasting Barrel is a full circle and we sit in pub chairs at the bar.  Each place is set with two snifters.  Yeah, they only let us taste two of the several brands they produce.  However, they are the top end of the products.  Evan Williams Single Barrel is in one snifter while the other holds Elijah Craig 12 Year.

Alan takes us through a short class on drinking and enjoying bourbon.  I take a small sip on the Evan Williams Single Barrel.  It’s not bad.  I’m the DD so I don’t really drink anything.  I pass my snifters over to Rich to finish up.  The guy sitting next to me leans out to see me push the snifters to Rich.  I think he was a little bit jealous that Rich was getting extra.

We complete our tour and purchases at the store.  We drive through Bardstown to get back to I-65.  I look around to see where we should stay when we come back to complete Rich’s Bourbon Trail passport.  He has three more distilleries to visit to say he did them all.  We already did Jim Beam some years back, but that was before Rich had his passport.

We stop for gas before getting on the highway.  Rich comes out from getting coffee shaking his head.  The clerk tried to rip him off for $2.  That is crazy.  We head down the road and back to the Marriot in downtown Louisville.  I pull into the garage and we get out to gather our stuff.  Rich almost screams that he lost his phone.  I think maybe he just drops it and it fell into the back.  We tear the car apart with no luck.

We check in and go up to our room.  I get the number for the gas station and call to see if he left it there.  No phone was turned in.  Stealing a phone doesn’t work these days.  There are locked up and the cards are impossible to get service on for a programmed phone.  Rich worries about it and goes down to check the car again.  No luck though.

I take a shower and hear Rich says he’s going down to check the car one more time.  Poor guy.  I hear him return in triumph.  He had forgotten to look under the car next to ours.  There it was.  Now he could relax.  Time for dinner.

We walk down to Main Street to check out the restaurants in the buildings that held the bars where I used to hang out.  Patrick O’Shea’s is an Irish bar right next to where my favorite bar was.  We sit near the door and have beers and food.  It’s pretty good.  I get to have a Bourbon Barrel Stout from Bluegrass Brewing Company.  It is wonderful and very easy to drink.

After dinner, I was to look around the building.  We talk to the hostess who explains about the renovations.  It took about 4 years and a lot of money.  This building used to house one of the first bars I snuck into at an early age.  I didn’t sneak in to drink, but to dance.  That’s all we really wanted to do.  I have some good memories along Main Street.  The building is beautiful.  Lots of open space, wood, and brick.  These buildings were built in the 1800s and have seen their share of hard times.

It’s time to wander down to Fourth Street.  The street is picked up for the season.  The stage is gone and the outdoor bars are gone.  The restaurants still have their sidewalk tables and their doors open.  It’s nice out here.

Rich wants to go down to the Seelbach Hotel and check out the bar again.  This is one of the locations we hit back on our Urban Bourbon Trail days.  The bar is nice, but not what Rich expected.  He wants to check it out and see if it really wasn’t that fancy.  It’s not.  There are a few people there sitting along the wide bar.

Back out on the street, we turn toward the hotel.  We walk by the Visitor’s Bureau with their sign showing the 5 acceptable pronunciations for Louisville.  Rich takes my picture with it.  Now it’s time to hit Blu.  Blu is the bar at the Marriott.  This is one of the big reasons to stay here again.  We take a seat at the bar.  Looking at the menu, I quickly spot a possible drink for me, Kentucky Peach Tea.  It is sweet tea, peach schnaps, and bourbon.  Rich orders a bourbon neat with a side of ice.

We sit back and watch the football game that is on the TV overhead.  It’s quiet and we sip our drinks in pure contentment.  If you have to end vacation, this is one way to do it.  We talk to the bartender about the toppers on the Blanton’s bottle.  Apparently, there are 7 different toppers showing a jockey in different poses in the act of winning a race.  Each one represents a different letter that spells out Blanton.  The last N is the victory sign overhead.  Cool, but to collect them all requires a lot of money.

We continue our wandering and go upstairs.  It’s time for bed and I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight.

The next morning, we check out and head to breakfast.  We drive up the highway to my hometown and find a booth at the Waffle House.  It’s busy.  The staff at the grill are talking loud, laughing and shouting orders.  It’s fun to listen and watch everyone.  I know I look around at the faces and wonder if I know anyone.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen anyone here.

On the road again, we hit rain when we get close to Chicago.  It’s on to home and into the arms (or paws) of the one’s we love.  Rich goes in the door and Sascha comes into the kitchen.  She looks at Rich and then does a double take.  She can’t believe it’s her daddy.  She dances and is very excited.  It’s good to be home again.

Last shot of the mountains in the morning.  Sorry to leave it.
Last shot of the mountains in the morning. Sorry to leave it.
Trophy barrels in the rick.
Trophy barrels in the rick.

 

Rich out front of Y Barrel House with Bucky.
Rich out front of Y Barrel House with Bucky.

Vacation Day 9 What falls?

Can it really be our last day in the Smokies?  Like all good things, it can’t go on forever.  We sat around planning our hikes and activities for the last day.  Rich decided he wanted to see one more corner of the park.  We use the last of our goodies to fix breakfast and then pack up to go to Cosby.

First, we have to have gas.  I pull in the Shell station to find that everyone else in Gatlinburg needs gas.  I pull around to an empty pump at the same time that a motorcycle comes into the station.  I want that pump!  I pull forward, which blocks him from getting to the pump easily.  I stare him down and he moves on.  I pull up and jump out.  Darn, I forgot my credit card.  Guess Rich will have to pay.  We top off the tank, clean the windows, and head out for the day.

We take the Rt 321 out of Gatlinburg and head north.  As we approach our first stop, we see a full-sized bear run across the road behind another car.  That’s the third bear we saw this trip.

The road takes us around the rim of the park on the northeast side.  We turn into the entrance to Ramsey Cascades.  The road winds around beside the Little Pigeon River and through a forest.  We arrive at the area where the creek comes down from Ramsey Cascades.  The water pours down over the rocks and gushes out into the river.  It is a beautiful white water effect.  We take a few pictures here.

We drive up the road as far as it takes us.  The parking lot there has a few cars in it.  We park, suit up with our packs, and head down the service road that is the first part of the trail.  We take the branch to the left and it quickly becomes a dirt path with roots.  This is the Porter Trail that runs up to the backcountry campground.  About 1.8 miles into the trail is the Fern Falls.  We aren’t going the full path up to the campground.  Or that was the original plan

The trail starts out pretty good.  It has some up and downs with some rocks and roots.  Then we come to the bridge.  This is the longest log bridge in the entire park.  Rich thinks it is about 30 feet long.  It’s also about 15 feet over the raging Little Pigeon River.  I’m afraid of heights and it is enough to scare me.  Rich goes over the bridge without looking back.  Now he waits expecting me to waltz over the logs.  I start over, but I go slowly, one step at a time and stop along the way.  I make it over in about 10 minutes.

The trail leaves the river and starts climbing up the mountain.  It is full of rocks and very narrow.  I start whining about now.  I’m not sure I can really make it up the hill.  My legs are tired.  But hey, I ‘m not huffing and puffing yet.  OK, I might make it.

We continue to climb and climb.  We cross a small creek.  We march on.  Around the corner of the mountain, we run into three young guys coming down from the campground. Each of them carries a large amount of equipment for a couple of days up there.  Rich asks if they saw Fern Falls up ahead.  They say they didn’t run into anything.

Rich and one of the guys look over the map to try and pinpoint where it might be.  I ask one of the guys about their trip to the campground.  He tells me about the storm from last night.  I forgot about that.  They apparently had a tarp over their tents and just hunker down for the night.  They seem fairly dry now.  He tells me they are moving locations and heading down to another backcountry campground.  Brave is all I can think.

We determine that the falls were actually back at the stream that we crossed back down the path.  I knew I was going too far!  We go back the .1 miles to the creek.  As we approached the creek, we could hear the falls.  I didn’t hear them from the other side of the creek.

Fern Falls are a beautiful bridal falls that comes down from the mountain and fills the creek.  We take quite a few pictures.  I rest on the quiet side of the creek.  How can you not hear it from this side?  It still amazes me that it’s quiet.

Now it’s time to head back down the mountain.  We run into a group of four people on their way to the falls.  We stop them and explain to look left when you get to the creek or you’ll miss it.  They laugh.  I explain that the falls are quiet from this side.

We continue down the trail and meet people all along the way.  It was so quiet with no one on the way up.  Then we arrive at the log bridge again.  Oh my gosh, I must go back across it.  I give Rich my hiking stick and then I have both hands free to walk back.  It’s easier this time and I can look up and not concentrate on my feet.

We meet a couple of ladies at the bridge.  They ask us to warn the older lady that we will meet later about the bridge and that they advise her to wait at the bridge and not to cross it.  We convey this information when we meet up with the lady and the gentleman helping up the trail.  We talk for a few minutes and then get back underway.

Along the way, I see a snake on the trail all stretched out in the sun.  Rich walks right by it.  It does look like a stick.  The head appears strange and I’m thinking someone put a hiking stick on its head.  I poke it with my stick and the snake coils up, ready to strike.  It’s so small, so I don’t think he can really do any harm.

We go down the trail to the car.  From here, we head to the picnic area and have our lunch.  After lunch, we drive back down to the main road and drive out to Cosby.  This entrance to the park is small.  There is a picnic area, campground, and a nature trail.  The trail is .7 miles that winds around three or four creeks that converge in the area.  It’s like a rain forest that had been a settlement of two or three cabins.  We read the pamphlet about the area and continued to walk the trail.  It is nice and cool in the forest.  We cross a log bridge and I see a guy down the stream fly fishing.  How cool.

By this time, I’m tired.  Time to go to the car and drive back to the cabin.  Rich lets me stop at a woodcarving shop to look at bear statues.  I really want one, but not for the price.  Oh well, I did get to look.

We go back to the cabin and shower.  Dinner tonight is at the Smoky Mountain Trout House again.  It was really good and I know what I’m getting.  We arrive and find we are the second couple there.  Remember, there are only 10 or 12 tables.  If you don’t arrive early, you have to wait.

Mary, our waitress from the other night, looks surprised to see us back.  I don’t why.  The food is good.  Rich orders the Dilly Trout and I order the Eisenhower Trout.  Both are great.  We enjoyed our dinner.  I highly recommend this place if you are in Gatlinburg

It’s time to go back to the cabin and pack.  We get everything together and have it all ready to move to the car in the morning.  We happen to step out on the porch just as the sunset is shining over the mountain and lighting up the clouds with a rosy glow.  It’s beautiful, but only lasts a few minutes.  We’ve probably missed this over the week that we’ve been here.  Darn!

We decide to look up the snake that we saw.  It comes out pretty quickly that we saw a Dekay’s Brown snake.  The marking on the head is one of its trademarks.  It’s not poisonous either.  Then, it’s time for bed.

So during our week in the park, we have the following animal count:

3 bears

1 coyote

1 doe and her fawn

4 wild turkeys

1 yellow frog

1 Dekay’s Brown Snake

Handful of squirrels

More birds than we can count

My last morning shot of Mt Leconte from the porch.
My last morning shot of Mt Leconte from the porch.
This is the longest log bridge in the Smoky Mt Park.  Scary!
This is the longest log bridge in the Smoky Mt Park. Scary!
Nice shot of the Little Pigeon River along the road.
Nice shot of the Little Pigeon River along the road.
The main branch from Ramsey Cascades coming down to Little Pigeon River.
The main branch from Ramsey Cascades coming down to Little Pigeon River.
The second branch from Ramsey Cascades spills down the creek into the Little Pigeon River.
The second branch from Ramsey Cascades spills down the creek into the Little Pigeon River.
Rich getting a picture of the water from Ramsey Cascades into the Little Pigeon River.
Rich getting a picture of the water from Ramsey Cascades into the Little Pigeon River.
Long shot of Fern Falls on the mountain.
Long shot of Fern Falls on the mountain.
Close up of Fern Falls.
Close up of Fern Falls.

Snake on the way down from Fern Falls

A shot of Cosby Creek on the nature trail.
A shot of Cosby Creek on the nature trail.
Water, water, water everywhere on Cosby Nature Trail.
Water, water, water everywhere on Cosby Nature Trail.
More of the waterway in Cosby.
More of the waterway in Cosby.
Water rolling away on the Camelhump Creek.
Water rolling away on the Camelhump Creek.
Interesting tree formation along Cosby Creek,
Interesting tree formation along Cosby Creek,
Clouds coming in over Mt Leconte in the evening.
Clouds coming in over Mt Leconte in the evening.
Sunset on the clouds over Mt. Leconte.
Sunset on the clouds over Mt. Leconte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation Day 8: Over the river and through the gap to Abrams Falls

Somehow our clocks are out of sync.  Either I sleep in or Rich does.  Today was Rich’s turn to sleep in.  We got breakfast and got on the road to Cades Cove again today.  We are going to walk the Abrams Falls trail.  Since the entire trail there and back is 5 miles, this is our only hike of the day.Our first wildlife sighting for the day was a pair of wild turkeys by the side of the road on our way to Cades Cove.  I almost missed them.  You wouldn’t think that black, white and red blends with the grass and trees.  But it does!

This trail starts about midway of the loop, so we have to get through the single lane road with all of the slow drivers.  When we reach the Townsend turnoff, it begins to rain.  It’s coming down pretty good, too.  That’s fine.  We have raincoats in our packs.  Rain is just one of those things you put up with when you hike.

The rain and difference between the warm and cold causes the smoke on the mountains to be more intense.  As we round the corner to John Oliver’s homestead, we can see the mountains to the south of the park with a wreath of smoke on them.  People are pulling off the road in this area.  We decide to pull off and get some pictures as well.  To the right of us, we can see the smoke rising from the ridge behind the homestead.  That ridge is fairly close to us.  We take pictures of the farther mountains also.  This is the best example of the smoke rising that we’ve seen so far.

We start back down the loop.  Just after we get past the churches and Elijah Oliver’s homestead, we run into a long line of traffic.  It’s hard to see what the holdup is.  Then it becomes apparent.  There is a truck pulling a trailer filled with people.  It’s a hay ride in the rain!

We inch along until we finally get to the Abrams Falls turn off.  We pull into the parking lot and Rich asks me if that’s a dog.  I don’t see anything so I can say.  On the far side of the lot, there is a coyote walking the edge of the grass toward the path.  He is pretty big, but definitely a coyote.  Rich snaps a couple of good pictures before the coyote heads into the woods and down the trail.

We pull on our raincoats and put on our camelbaks.  With hiking sticks in hand, we head down the trail.  We cross a small creek and the trail heads southwest.  Even though it’s raining, we get pretty warm quickly.  Soon the rain stops, we stop to take off our coats and store them in our packs.

The trail ranges up and down with some pretty good hills.  It’s not the worst trail we’ve been on in the park so far.  We are heading to a gap in the ridge that runs parallel with the Abrams Creek.  At the gap, the river sounds like it right next to you.  Once you cross the gap, the river sounds like it is behind you all of sudden.

After the gap, we start heading down the mountain for the valley.  We are walking down the opposite side of the mountain.  We cross over some feeder creeks and streams running to Abrams Creek.  It is getting wider and moving fast.  As we get to the last downward slope, the trail becomes a huge piece of upended rock that is jagged and uneven.  The climbing here is a lot more difficult.

We round the corner where the creek runs and there is the falls.  There are lots of large boulders here that you scramble over to get to the water’s edge.  There are two couples already here.  One of the pair had passed us on the way down.

Abrams Falls has the largest pool at the bottom of all the falls in the park.  It is a favorite swimming hole for a lot of people.  A set of young men come down the trail and immediately prepare to go swimming. The dangers in this pool are great.  There are large, unseen boulders that could get in your way of swimming underwater.  The force of the falls could suck you under the water and keep you down.

Rich walks around taking pictures while I rest.  He notices that the falls is receding along the wall and moving west.  It’s almost like Niagara Fall and how it is receding and moving along the rock wall behind the falls.  Rich takes a picture of me with the falls in the background.  This is proof that I made the hike.

We gather up our packs and start the journey up.  We’ve given ourselves plenty of time to take the trail.  So far, we’ve done pretty good on time.  The walk down takes us about an hour and fifteen minutes.  We are hoping to match that going back up.

We get over the rough rocks and up the first hills.  Then we start hearing thunder off behind us.  I didn’t think that the weather usually came from that direction.  As we continue up the mountain, the sound of thunder gets closer and louder.  By the time we reach the gap, the sounds are very close.  We hear lighting, but we don’t see it strike.  We have passed several people just starting down the trail to the falls.  It’s unwise to be on the mountain in a storm.

We hear more lighting and thunder as we go down the mountain.  People just ahead of us are turning around rather than risk being exposed on the mountain.  It begins to pour at one point and we are getting wet.  Rich stops to put his camera in his pack to protect it. The rain is cool and feels good after the long hike.

We just make it over the bridge and head to the parking lot when it absolutely pours down on us.  Luckily, we are in a stand of thick trees and it prevents us from being pelted by the rain.  I look out past the parking lot and see a doe and her fawn coming through the meadow beside the road.  Rich gets his camera out and tries to catch them before they disappear from our view.

Since the rain is still coming down, we grab our sandwich stuff and eat in the car.  It’s just enough to keep us from starving until dinner.  It’s about 3:30 now and we have dinner plans at 5:00!  We get moving because we still have to complete the 11 mile loop to back to the cabin.  Everyone is only driving 10 miles an hour.

We got as fast as possible with the traffic, rain, and park conditions.  We make it out of the park and back onto the by-pass around town in good time.  I see some wild turkey and try to stop so Rich can take pictures.  Unfortunately, the turkeys aren’t cooperating and walk out of his range.  He tries anyway.

As we go up the road to our cabin, Rich takes pictures.  I plan to use an animation program and stitch them together so that we can simulate what the drive up to the cabin looks like.  Since I used one to show Rich walking the width of the Appalachian Trail, it’s worth a shot to see if it would turn out.

We arrive at the cabin at 4:15.  We have to meet Pete and Karen at 5:00 in Pigeon Forge.  It’s going to be close.  We rush through showers and get dressed.  It’s quarter to when we leave the cabin.  Luckily, Pigeon Forge is only 10 minutes away.

We arrived right at 5:00.  The hot rod run looked like it was kicking into full swing, but the parking lot was not that full yet.  We parked and went in to get a buzzer.  Rich called Pete to see where they were.  Unfortunately, they got caught coming into town and were going to be a few minutes.  It didn’t take them too long before they pulled into the parking lot.  As they got out and walked up, the buzzer went off.  Good timing.  We got our seats, drinks, and the talk began.

After dinner, we walked around the cars outside the restaurant a little bit.  There was a lot of traffic and people.  Time to move the jig saw from our car to Pete’s van.  Back when Pete and Karen were moving to Tennessee, Rich bought the saw.  In the time since he’s had it, it sat in the garage.  It seemed like a good opportunity to return an antique to its owner.

We continue to stand in the parking lot talking and talking.  We just couldn’t seem to stop.  The weather is turning bad around us, so it is time to call it quits.  We say our final good-byes and leave the restaurant parking lot.  It is easy for us to get out.  We get into the middle lane and buzz right out of town.  We follow the road to Cove Mountain Road and right onto the concrete platform in front of Grandma’s Gift.

When we get in the door, the storm outside breaks loose.  There is a clap of thunder and a pounding on the roof.  We settle into our routine in the living room with our computers.  I’m writing the last blog to try and get caught up.  Rich is sorting pictures from the day’s hike.  We hear the sound of a large truck come up Cove Mountain Road and pass the cabin.  Then there is the sound of backup beepers going off.

I open the front door of the cabin and there is an ambulance backing right up to the front door.  I stand there and watch them back right up to within inches of the wall.  They stop, pull forward, and continue up the hill.  I look out and there is a full truck and ladder backing up on the road just above us.  There are 5 or 6 guys with flashlights waving him around so that he doesn’t run off the road.

The fire truck comes around and down the road.  They continue down the hill and I hear them get to the bottom.  The ambulance comes down the road following the fire truck.  I shut the door and come inside. The sound of the truck and ambulance echo from the road down below the cabin.  I guess they are still looking for something or someone.

We share some time alone on our couches enjoying just being in the same room.  Then it’s off to bed.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Gatlinburg.  We intend to hike and see another part of the park.  We need our beauty rest for that.

My morning picture of Mt. Leconte from our porch.
My morning picture of Mt. Leconte from our porch.

 

Smoky Mountains looking north from John Oliver's homestead.
Smoky Mountains looking north from John Oliver’s homestead.
Smoky Mountains looking south from John Oliver's homestead.
Smoky Mountains looking south from John Oliver’s homestead.
More smoking mountains early on Thursday.
More smoking mountains early on Thursday.
Coyote stopping by Abrams Falls to visit us before hitting the trail.
Coyote stopping by Abrams Falls to visit us before hitting the trail.
Even the creek is smoky here.
Even the creek is smoky here.
Rapids on Abrams Creek.
Rapids on Abrams Creek.
Rich at the Gap on Abrams Falls trail.
Rich at the Gap on Abrams Falls trail.
Joy at the Gap on Abrams Falls trail.
Joy at the Gap on Abrams Falls trail.
A yellow frog crossed our path.
A yellow frog crossed our path.
Another shot of Abrams Falls.
Another shot of Abrams Falls.
Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls
Another shot of Abrams Falls.
Another shot of Abrams Falls.
Up close at Abrams Falls.
Up close at Abrams Falls.
Joy at Abrams Falls
Joy at Abrams Falls
Rich on the roughest part of the trail back from Abrams Falls.
Rich on the roughest part of the trail back from Abrams Falls.
Doe and her fawn moving through the meadow.
Doe and her fawn moving through the meadow.
Two turkeys in the bushes.
Two turkeys in the bushes.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation Extra: Drive to Our Cabin and Then from Cabin to Parkway

I’ve been playing around with the GIF animator now that I did the animation of Rich.  I had Rich snap pictures as I drove up the Parkway and took the Cove Mountain Road exit to our cabin.  Not exactly what I had hoped for, but it is a little bit cool.  Here is our drive up to the cabin every day.

Our drive up to the cabin.
Our drive up to the cabin.

Click on the graphic to start the animation.

 

Then, of course, there is the drive from the cabin to the parkway.

Animation driving from cabin to Park

Click on the photo to start the animation.

Vacation Day 7 Three for the Price of One

We are maintaining our schedule pretty well.  We got up a little earlier, but took our time about breakfast.  After straightening up, we head out to the park yet again.  Today, we go across the park to Cherokee, NC.As a kid, we used to come to the Smokies and camp.  We always went over to Cherokee to check out the Indian reservation.  There were several shops and places where the Cherokee would do different dances.  We would walk around, watch the shows, and just hang out.  I couldn’t pass up going over to see how much it had changed.

But first, we have a couple of side trips to make.  Our first stop is at the Sugarland Visitor’s Center.  There is a trail to the Cataract Falls.  This is labeled as an easy one and short.  We park at the center and follow the directions to go to the bathrooms.  Sounds strange, but just beyond the bathrooms is the trail to Fighting Creek and Cataract Falls.

As we are walking down to the start of the trail, a man stops me to ask about the trail.  I explain what I’ve learned about the nature trails.  He asks questions about what to expect.  We say good-bye and head down the trail.  It’s pretty easy with few ups and downs.  You walk over several bridges and under the main bridge for the road.  We go up a set of set steps and through the forest.  A beautiful waterfall is at the end of the trail.  We take a couple of pictures and enjoy the view.

We head back to the car.  On the way, we run into a couple with a baby stroller.  We explain the trail and that they will have to lift the stroller in a couple of places.  We leave them and continue on to the car.  We then drive over to Sugarland Valley Nature Trail.  What luck!  This is an easy trail also.  It is all concrete walkway through the forest.  The trail is on a homestead site where cabins had stood and open corn fields.  The stream here is very nice with lots of rapids and rocks.  Rich is looking for trout without any luck.

We get to the construction, which is where the Chimneys overlook is at.  We want to stop and get pictures.  This means we have to pull up to the next pullout and walk back to the overlook.  The sun is shining in the wrong direction for good pictures.  We figure we’ll try to stop again on the way back.

In the car, Rich figures out that we see the Chimneys rock formations for another overlook further up the road.  We drive up and find the Morton Overlook, which did indeed have a much better view and vantage without the sun.  We get the pictures and read the sign for the overlook named for Ben Morton who pushed for the roads through the park.

Back on the road again, we head to Oconauluftee Visitor’s Center and Farm Museum.  This the southeast entrance to the park from the North Carolina side.  Here, they have a museum set up with buildings, gardens, and other things to depict farm life in the early 1800s.  I find it cool.  It reminds of my grandparents’ farms in a lot of ways.  There is a house, smokehouse, barns, applehouse, honey hives, pig pen and chicken house.  There is one lonely little piglet and a couple of chickens.

Inside the Visitor’s Center, Rich checks out the swinging bridge trail we tried to take.  Yes, that was definitely a huge drop on the trail.  Good thing we didn’t try that one.  We check out the falls where we are going today.  Time to hit the road again.

We drive through Cherokee.  It definitely looks a lot different than I remember it.  There is only one place with Cherokee dancers.  There are lots of stores and more modern buildings.  I see a couple of older places that resemble the buildings I remember.  We continue through and head out toward Bryson City.  The entrance for this part of the park is out in the middle of nowhere, but we are confident we can find it.  Rich is reading the map and tells me to turn on Tom Branch Rd.  I never see a road named this or has the State Road number he tells me.  I continue on past the one that Rich it should be.

Now we are going into Bryson City.  It’s a small town with a touristy downtown.  It’s cute.  We wind out way out of town on a small country road.  After a couple of turns, we get to the park entrance.  Right outside of the entrance, we drive through the middle of someone’s tube rental business.  It looks funny because there are stacks of yellow tubes on either side of us.  Then we see the park entrance.  I guess they really want you to rent a tube for the river.

First stop is lunch though.  We drive into the picnic ground and find a table right next to a stream.  We have our ham and cheese sandwiches.  I have a peach and Rich opts for a banana.  That should hold us until dinner.  As we eat, a group of people come by with their dogs.  It’s like a furry friends group outing and they brought their master along.

Rich stops a lady who is walking by about the waterfall.  She tells about the June Whankey falls and then continues her walk.  We load up and move on to the parking lot for the trail.  So the trail starts at the Deep Creek trail and takes you up .1 miles to another trail going around the mountain side for .2 miles to the miles.  The return trip is .1 miles down to the Deep Creek trail again.

This first section is like straight up!  I’m huffing and puffing again and begging to stop every couple of feet.  We get to the next section, which is a horse trail to where the waterfall trail starts.  It’s very convoluted.  But the falls are worth the trip.  There is a bench to sit on and look up at the falls.

Some lady is standing at the side shouting instructions to some guy as he is scrambling all over the water below the falls.  There are signs everywhere telling you to stay out of the water and off the falls.  I’m surprised he didn’t slip and fall.  It might be fun, but it is very dangerous.  The bill to rescue you won’t be cheap either.

We head up the other side and down a steep ravine to get back to the Deep Creek trail on the other side.  As we are going down, the lady who answered Rich’s questions was coming up.  I stop to ask her about her running shoes.  I’ve been looking for a new pair and these look like what I want.  She tells me they are old and handed down from her daughter.  That figures.  I like the old style and not the new ones.

We get down to the Deep Creek trail and decide to follow it for a while.  Up ahead, we see another waterfall.  This is the Tom Branch waterfall.  It is high with several individual drops that create a nice cascade.  There are benches so you can sit and admire the water.  I sit while Rich is taking pictures.  It’s hard to get good clean pictures since there is some guy crawling around through the water with a tripod trying to take exposure pictures of the falls.

After a rest, we decide to continue up the Deep Creek trail to see what else is there.  We know this trail makes a loop, but it pretty long and we don’t have time to walk the entire thing.  We get to the top of a rise and see a sign for another waterfall.  This is the Indian Creek waterfall.  We walked down a very steep path to reach the falls.  It was spectacular.  Rich went further down to get better pictures.  I hear a small yelp and he is balancing on a couple of logs.  I yell down that I’m not coming to the rescue if he falls.

We start back up the trail and return to the car.  We saw a group of guys coming down the river in rafts when we were walking up.  As we walk back down to the car, we pass two different groups of ladies on their way up to raft the river.  I can image how cold that water is coming down from the mountain.

We get back to the car and unload our stuff.  The first group of guys have strung all of their rafts together on top of a van.  Only one doesn’t fit and someone is holding it out of a window.  That doesn’t look safe.  They pull out ahead of me from the parking lot and stop in the exit.  I have to drive around them to get out.

Rich has decided that we are going to follow the same road back.  He is pretty sure that the road right across the creek from the parking lot is the road he was looking for.  I’m up for anything, right after a bathroom break.  I come out from the bathroom to find one of the dogs yelling at Rich.  He’s telling Rich to stay away from his people.  Dachshunds are protective.

We turn back to this road that Rich wants to travel.  As soon as we get over the bridge, it becomes gravel and single lane.  There is no turning back now.  We are committed.  The roads winds up and up and over a couple of pretty good sized hills.  At the top, we hit pavement again.  I don’t recognize the name of the road.  But the GPS seems to know where we are.  We wind through the countryside and make a couple of turns.  Then we are back on the main road.  It is the turn that Rich indicated on the way in.

We get back into Cherokee.  I just have to stop at one of the trading posts.  I promise this is the only one.  We walk around the store, which is full of the same tchotky stuff that you would expect.  There is a mountain lion on display with a squirrel in his mouth.  I tell Rich I’ve seen that before with Sascha at the last squirrel she got.  I see only a silver watch in the case that I would like.  But my money is running low and I can’t take advantage of it.

We’re back on the road again and going through the park.  Everywhere, the drivers of motorcycles and cars alike are going 10 miles under the speed limit.  I’m feeling like I can’t get anywhere.  There are some great hills here that are fun to drive at the full speed.  We drive straight through without any more stops.

It is time to clean up for dinner.  We shower and dress in our best causal.  Tonight, we go to Mama’s Farmhouse for dinner.  It is dinner served family style.  Surprisingly, we don’t really have to wait in line anywhere for dinner.  We are seated in a small room toward the kitchen.  Billy, our server, comes by for drink orders and explains what we’ll be getting for dinner.

There is fried chicken, country fried steak, and country ham tonight.  The sides are corn pie, mac and cheese, broccoli casserole, sweet potato casserole, and mashed potatoes and gravy.  We eat up.  Billy is giving us a hard time about cleaning our plates and all of the sides before we can get dessert.  There is only banana pudding since the peach cobbler is all gone.  We are stuffed.

We roll out the door where one of the doormen stops us to try and sell tickets to events on the main strip.  No, we are tired and not interested.  He comments on Rich’s Ren Faire sandals.  Everyone is making comments about them.  Do they really like them or trying not to make fun of them?  I love mine.  Those are my hiking shoes for this week.

We get back to the cabin and settle into our routine for the evening.  We write blogs and deal with pictures.  Then we get our IPAs, of which these are the last two, and we sit out on the porch looking at the stars.  It was a great day and a great way to spend our anniversary.  It’s been 20 years since our wedding and the reception in the backyard.  Hardly seems like it has been that long.  I wouldn’t trade him for anyone else, on his good days.

 

Checking the cloud situation on Mt. Leconte in the morning.
Checking the cloud situation on Mt. Leconte in the morning.
We passed this tree on our way to Cataract Falls.
We passed this tree on our way to Cataract Falls.
Cataract Falls was our first hike of the day.  It was an easy one to reach.
Cataract Falls was our first hike of the day. It was an easy one to reach.
We put down our hiking sticks to take pictures at Cataract Falls.  Time to pick them up again.
We put down our hiking sticks to take pictures at Cataract Falls. Time to pick them up again.

 

The trail to Cataract Falls run right under the roadway.
The trail to Cataract Falls run right under the roadway.
Fighting Creek at Sugarland Valley Nature Trail
Fighting Creek at Sugarland Valley Nature Trail
Rich trying to capture the moment at the Nature Trail.  Either that or another trout picture.
Rich trying to capture the moment at the Nature Trail. Either that or another trout picture.
One of the chimneys still standing from the homesteads.
One of the chimneys still standing from the homesteads.
Chickens at the Farm Museum.
Chickens at the Farm Museum.
Piglet playing in mud.
Piglet playing in mud.
Smokehouse will hams at the museum.
Smokehouse will hams at the museum.
What's a home without an outhouse.
What’s a home without an outhouse.
June Whankey Falls over by Bryson City.
June Whankey Falls over by Bryson City.
Tom Branch Falls was one of surprise falls.
Tom Branch Falls was one of surprise falls.
Rich trying to get a good picture of Tom Branch Falls without this guy in them.
Rich trying to get a good picture of Tom Branch Falls without this guy in them.

 

Rafters we saw on our walk back on Deep Creek trail.
Rafters we saw on our walk back on Deep Creek trail.
Indian Creek Falls was at the back of Deep Creek.  Very nice surprise.
Indian Creek Falls was at the back of Deep Creek. Very nice surprise.
Bob signs everywhere in the park.  This Bob is a pain.
Bob signs everywhere in the park. This Bob is a pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vacation Day 6 Walking the Width of the Appalachian Trail

I actually slept in today!  Rich got up first and I didn’t even hear him.  It must be that mountain air.  I even missed Rich screaming like a little girl when he discovered our unexpected guest.Rich was drying his hands on the towel that was lying by the sink.  A very large spider dropped out onto the sink.  I don’t blame him for screaming.  It was like a small tarantula.  Then I woke up and found it in the sink.  Before I scream, Rich yells up from downstairs to look out for the spider.

Poor guy was stuck in the sink.  I laid out some toilet paper so he had something to grab onto and he scrambled right out of my way.  He went over the side and took up residence in the corner behind the door.  At least he was out of the way and I knew where he was.

Today, we were heading straight to Clingman’s Dome.  This is an observation tower that is on a ridge in the middle of the mountains.  It sits at about 6,600 feet.  So the altitude change was going to be different for us.  You don’t think about that until start trying to breathe heavily.  It’s much harder than it looks.  Also, we had to go early because the clouds start coming in and you can’t see anything.  By early evening, the tower itself becomes engulfed in clouds.  That might be cool, but not at the moment.

Luckily, there aren’t too many tourists in the park.  It’s fairly easy to drive.  The only problem is the construction going on.  They are working on retaining walls, shoulders, and even building a new parking lot.  Many of the pullouts or parking lots are filled with construction equipment or trucks from the workers.

We get to Clingman’s Dome around 10:00.  That’s a little later than planned, but I did sleep in.  We are just barely beating the clouds.  We can see them over on the next hills and they are starting to roll this way.  We start up the ramp, which is a pretty steep and very consistent.  You don’t really get a break.  Rich is doing pretty well, but I have to stop often to catch my breath and not be sick.  Rich gets to the top before I do, but that’s okay.  I arrive intact and only breathing heavily.

We get the 360 degree view of the surrounding ridges.  We can’t really see too far into North Carolina because of the incoming clouds.  We can see east down the ridge of mountains that the Dome sits on, north out toward Gatlinburg, and west over the other side of the ridge.  We can see Cove Mountain, where our cabin is located, at the end of a ridge of mountains perpendicular to the Dome.  We must be on the back side of the mountain though.  We definitely don’t see the Dome from our porch.

So it’s time to go back down the ramp.  This means that my legs will be burning from the exertion.  We walk slowly and take our time.  We first stop at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail so I can get Rich’s picture.  I’m going to make a gif of him walking the width of the trail.  This will match his new t-shirt.

Going down, we take our time and stop to take photos.  There are flowers blooming everywhere.  I can’t believe all the color here in September.  That and the sound of all the bees that are busy doing their jobs.  You can hear those bees over everyone talking around you.  I’m not sure why the bees aren’t mad at us all there.

It looks like blackberry season is just finishing up here in the park.  Everywhere I look, I see bushes, but the berries are gone or dried up.  Along the ramp, there are places where the bears have pushed into the patches so that they reach more berries.  It’s hard to see these indentations from the photos.  Some are only a foot or so in and some are pushed at least 4 or 5 feet in.

We get down to the bottom and the legs keep burning.  We walk out to the end of the parking lot to try and get photos of the clouds lowering onto the overlook.  I see a small dog with a couple on his and her motorcycles.  Then I see a soft crate strapped to his motorcycle.  I realize that poor dog is a passenger on this ride.  I sure hope he doesn’t mind.

We get in the car and head out down the road.  We stop at the Spruce-Fir Nature Walk.  This is a trail through a spruce and fir forest.  It was very beautiful, green, and quiet.  The trail explained the live and decay process in this force.  With this, we saw interesting examples of fungi, including something called Witch’s Butter.  Rich got some good pictures of this.  I’ll be to be sure and post them.

From here, we go to the Newfound Gap Overlook.  This overlook straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines.  There was a sign where the line is between the two states.  I was able to get a picture with it.  The original overlook was built in 1933 as part of the CCC program.  The parking lot and extension you see today was built a little later.  From this overlook, you can stand in one spot and look down into two states.

Rich saw a description for one of the quiet walkways that included a swinging bridge.  He wanted to go and check it.  So we drove down the back side of the ridge to the pullout.  We didn’t see it at first.  We double back and find it tucked in the corner of the lot.  We started up the hill and got pretty well into the trail before it stopped and dropped down the hill at a 50 degree angle.  There was no way I could that.  We give up and head back to the car.

On the road again, we head back toward Gatlinburg.  Along the way, we stop in at the Chimneys picnic area.  We grab a late lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  After eating, we grab our camelbaks and head off to the Cove Hardwood Forest nature trail.  We meet a couple coming down from the trail.  They tell us how beautiful the trail is, but they forget to mention how steep the trail is. We head up the trail anyway.

These nature trails explain parts of the mountain area along with the wildlife and environment around it.  They are very educational besides providing you with a walk trail to hike.  This area describes the hardwood forest of the area with its diverse tree and plant population.  There are examples of what logging does to the older forest and how it changes the environment.

The trail keeps going higher and higher up the mountain.  When I think we might be getting lost, it starts to turn and go back down again.  You see the forest from one angle on the lower trail and then get a bird’s eye of the entire forest from the old growth above down through the logged areas.  The trail is rock and packed earth.  The angle makes it a little difficult, but it was very nice.  After this, we are just hot, sweaty, and tired.

We head back down the mountain to our cabin.  To get to our cabin from the park, we have to down one side of the parkway, through a tunnel, make a U turn, cross over a bridge, and get back on the other side of the parkway.  Our road is a very quick right turn up a hill.  The hill twists very quickly and is at about a 45 degree angle.  The road twists and turns in switchbacks.  The cabin sits right on one of these corners.  I have to shoot across the road very quickly and onto the concrete pad to park.  I keep thinking someone will come around that corner and mow us down before we get to the concrete.  So far so good.

We clean up and head into Pigeon Forge for dinner.  I picked out the Old Mill Restaurant for dinner.  Mostly, this is for the pottery store that is next door.  Turns out, they had really awesome food.  Rich got a steak that was cooked perfectly.  I got the chicken livers, which were cooked nicely.  I was disappointed they didn’t come with gravy because I just wasn’t digging the come back sauce, which was more like Russian dressing.

We finish dinner and I pull Rich into the pottery store.  He could stay out in the garden and listen to the oboe player out there playing Kenny G type songs.  He looked like Fabio though.  I think he had an Italian name, but it wasn’t anything like Kenny G.  I look around the entire store.  I’m on a mission of sorts for a container.  I find what I’m looking for and a little more.  There is a butter bell.  You put a stick of butter into the bell and put water in the container.  The bell fits into the container pushing the water up to make a seal.  Then your butter stays cool and sealed against anything getting into it.  Pretty cool.

We head back to the cabin for the night.  After writing up blogs, processing pictures, and picking out hikes for tomorrow.  We get our IPAs and sit on the porch to watch the stars.  The clouds are rolling by, but it eventually clears.  No shooting stars tonight.  Then it’s off to bed.

I realize we have a schedule now.  We get up around 8:00 and have breakfast.  We are in the park by 10:00 and hike around until 3:00 or 4:00.  We then return to the cabin, clean up, and get out to dinner by 5:00.  We are back by 7:00 and work on various projects.  We check on the progress of the clouds rolling in over Mt. Leconte during the evening.  After it is dark, we sit out on the porch with a beverage of choice and watch the stars.  Around 9:00, we go to bed and read our book of choice until we are tired.  Then the process starts again.  Not a bad way to spend vacation.

Tuesday morning from our deck to check on clouds over Mt. Leconte.
Tuesday morning from our deck to check on clouds over Mt. Leconte.
Our unexpected guest in the bathroom.  We looked it up and it seems to be a Wolf spider.  He's gone now.
Our unexpected guest in the bathroom. We looked it up and it seems to be a Wolf spider. He’s gone now.
Just starting up the ramp to Clingman's Dome.
Just starting up the ramp to Clingman’s Dome.
Looking down at the ramp leading up to the tower at Clingman's Dome.
Looking down at the ramp leading up to the tower at Clingman’s Dome.
Watching the clouds coming in from North Carolina towards Clingman's Dome.
Watching the clouds coming in from North Carolina towards Clingman’s Dome.
Looking out south toward Gatlinburg.  Cove Mountain is almost in the center of the picture.  Our cabin is on the backside of this.
Looking out south toward Gatlinburg. Cove Mountain is almost in the center of the picture. Our cabin is on the backside of this.
Looking out west from the tower at the Dome.
Looking out west from the tower at the Dome.
Rich walking the width of the Appalachian Trail.
Rich walking the width of the Appalachian Trail.

View of mountains from ramp

Rich is reading the description for an exhibit on the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail.
Rich is reading the description for an exhibit on the Spruce-Fir Nature Trail.
I found Rip Van Winkle's bench on one of the nature trails.
I found Rip Van Winkle’s bench on one of the nature trails.
Tree that appeared to have started out on a nursery tree that disappeared.
Tree that appeared to have started out on a nursery tree that disappeared.
Lovely ferns along the Spruce-Fir trail.
Lovely ferns along the Spruce-Fir trail.
Standing at Appalachian Trail with sign to Maine.  We'd go, but we have to back by dinner time.
Standing at Appalachian Trail with sign to Maine. We’d go, but we have to back by dinner time.
Standing with one foot in each state.  Just a little torn.
Standing with one foot in each state. Just a little torn.
I'm standing on the old 1933 overlook at Newfound Gap looking into Tennessee.
I’m standing on the old 1933 overlook at Newfound Gap looking into Tennessee.
Looking out over North Carolina and one of the ridges running down from the Smoky Mts.
Looking out over North Carolina and one of the ridges running down from the Smoky Mts.
Most of the paths look like this with roots and rocks.
Most of the paths look like this with roots and rocks.