Monday, May 05, 2008

Western North Carolina, April 2008

Off I went for my spring camping trip near the Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina. I am not posting in Tent Tales and will not linger here on the camping experience--I was trying a new place. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes not so well. But I survived. And I was busy this time since every day was beautifully perfect in every way. Get comfortable, this is a long one...

Day One

I decided to go see the elk in Cataloochee Valley. I was warned by the campground owner about the road to get there but she also said it would be well worth it (she was right). There is only one way in and out. This one way starts out fine but then deteriorates to a one-lane gravel road that climbs steeply up the mountain (before descending steeply down into the valley) with many blind curves and nothing between your car and the sharp vertical drop at one edge of the road. My palms grow moist just recalling it. This goes on for some 5-7 miles, and seems endless since the blind curves are best driven at about 2 mph. While the Xterra took up entirely too much space on this narrow road, it offered me one great advantage. Its bright yellow color is like a neon sign and with no leaves on the trees, it could be seen at some distance traveling along the switchbacks. I passed one car that had doubtless seen me coming from far away and had time to find a suitable pullover before I got to it.

And then I arrived in the valley, which is breathtaking. Given the early hour and warmth from the sun, I suspected the elk would not be out in the open when I arrived and so I spent some time photographing the Cataloochee River. I very much enjoy taking photos of waterfalls and rushing water using a long exposure time. I don't get a lot of opportunities to practice this here in Florida and so I took many such photos, as you will see. Here's the river as it passes under a bridge.

Given the number of water-over-rocks photos that I got on this trip, I got a tad creative while processing them to avoid too much sameness. I made this one black-and-white, but then decided to put a little color back in. Just fooling around.

I walked through some of the meadows in the valley. I drove to where the road ends. Still too warm for elk to be coming out into the open. At the end of the road was a gate across a wide trail going into the woods. It seemed logical that the elk would be in the woods during the heat of the day, so I wandered down the trail.

Within 50 steps I came to a group of female elk grazing in the woods.


I encountered three separate groups before turning around to walk back to the car. Of course I had to take a photo of this stream running through the woods...

I drove back toward the entrance to the valley (there is a campground there) and stopped to investigate an open white building in a clearing. It turned out to be an old schoolhouse. I took this as I walked through toward the back door. I call this The Door To Springtime.

I walked into a meadow and took a photo of the mountain backdrop, and then processed it as a postcard:

The prospect of the drive back along that narrow road was weighing heavily and so I decided to head out. I was happy to have seen the female elk, though I wished I had seen a buck. And then as I drove slowly along I spotted movement to the left of the car, where the woods meet the meadow.

(not sure what the deal is with the tongue...)


So that was wonderful! I made it back safely--only had to maneuver past one oncoming car.

Day Two

Every morning after getting up I would open the back hatch to the car to take assorted things out, and I would leave it open while I had breakfast. Every morning two wrens would fly in and out of my car with thoughts of nesting in it. This one perched on the antenna telling the world about the great nesting spot it had found.

I decided to drive to Clingman's Dome. I had attempted this on my NC trip last fall but daily rain had put a damper on that plan. I got there easily enough.

DH and I lived in Asheville many, many years ago and often took visitors to Clingman's Dome. The half-mile hike from the parking lot to the dome was strenuous back then... I met a woman named Lisa while on the walk to the top, and our chatting and periodic rests along the side made it fun. I also got some short rests when I stopped to take photos of the view along this trek to the top.

I tried to take a photo that would show the incline of this walkway but never really accomplished that. However, here is the view down. The parking area is indicated by the arrow.

We made it to the top.

Here are a couple more photos I took before I left.


On the way back down I saw some water falling over the rocks by the side of the road, so you know I got out of the car and took a picture of it!

I also stopped at an overlook. Another black-and-white.

It was only about 2:00 or so by this time. I had picked up a map of waterfalls and hiking trails and recalled that Mingo Falls was in this vicinity and fairly accessible (many of the wonderful waterfalls in this part of the state are either on private property or at the end of a long hike). I consulted the map for directions. Here is the last part of those directions: "...Turn right, crossing bridge over a river, straight ahead is a parking lot and trail. Climb 170 steps to Mingo Falls."

170 steps. After hiking the path to Clingman's Dome.

And these weren't your low steps, oh no, these were high and deep steps. Mine was the only car in the parking area; not surprising--the hill of steps was a bit daunting. Off I go. I didn't count as I climbed.

It was well worth it! Mingo Falls is spectacular!

Of course you know I spent a lot of time taking long exposures of smaller areas where the water flowed over rocks and logs.

On my way down the steps I encountered a couple walking up. They looked weary. The woman commented on the climb. I told them I had just come from climbing to Clingman's Dome and she said they had, too. She asked if it was worth it and I said most definitely, so they continued up while I continued down.

I stopped in the town of Cherokee on my way back to the campground and bought a pair of Minnetonka sandals that feel like they were made for my feet. On the way out of town I saw these little horses in a field by the road.

Day Three

My legs were not nearly as stiff and sore as I had anticipated. I had so far done two of the three things I had hoped to do--saw elk and got to the top of Clingman's Dome. The only one left was to return to Mingus Mill, which is within the Smoky Mountains park. The access road had been closed when I passed it en route to Clingman's Dome. When I visited last fall, the drought had prevented the water spill-over as it travels to the mill, something I wanted to get a photo of. I stopped at the visitors center at the park to find out if the access road was open and was told it was. On to Mingus Mill!

The water was spilling over as hoped.


Here is a long view of the mill--

There is a path that follows the water flow from the river to the mill. Here it is flowing toward the mill.

Needless to say, I took a lot of photos before leaving. On my way out I passed a small bush with many of these flowers hanging here and there--very pretty and spring-like.

I packed up that afternoon and headed home the next morning--the only rainy day of this trip.

I can't wait to go back in the fall.


Stacie said...

Oh Peggy! I hardly know where to begin! These photos are awsome, every single one of them. I was in love with the postcard you sent me, so seeing your photos only solidified the notion that I need to look this place up and see it first hand...I'm not that far from NC, so it's feasable if I can just convince DH to do it.

The elk are awsome! I love fun that buck with his tongue hanging out! I love him!
Oh, every single one of these photos could be a postcard. I SOOOOOO have to try out that timed exposure thing. I have the capability now, but I've never done it. I need to try, I sooooo loved your photos of the river flowing over the rocks.
Awsome awsome Awsome!
I lvoed them all!

sue said...

What a wonderful time you had! Beautiful photos!!! Sue

David said...

Great water movement photos! Do you use a tripod to get those long exposures?

Peggy said...

Thanks, David! I'm nearly addicted to taking those (which is tough since we don't have a lot of moving water in Florida...). Yes, a tripod is required since the lens is open for so long.

Silbs said...

I enjoyed your images.