It's Wednesday morning, windy and raining at our cabin, "Amazing Grace", which sits at around 1,980 ft. , on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, gazing over Wears Valley and what was once the old Wonderland Lodge.
As I'm doing my deck/coffee routine, my wife and I take in the morning, deciding how to make the best of our 2nd to last day in the Smokies when the weather moves on, as the weather person has predicted.
Having slipped along quite a bit on our three previous hikes/nature trails on this trip, we decide that a motor tour of Roaring Fork will be appropriate, already having discussed it earlier, and needed to do some things in town anyway.
After a light breakfast that consisted of a bagel and cream cheese, we got on the road shortly before 11:30, making the trip down Little River Road, with the still swollen river alongside, and the rivulets and small cascading falls on the other. Making the decent into Gatlinburg near the visitor center the spring green dripped from the freshly fallen moisture, the depths colored by my favorite Dogwoods, and the roadside colored as brilliantly as anyone could want.
After passing through town, we entered Roaring Fork, stopping first at The Ogle Place, where there was a small Blue Grass band playing on the porch! If I recall correctly, they called themselves the Booger Town Gap, and they really played some wonderful tunes, much to the delight of the few observers that watched and listened.
We walked around the path to the right, only to discover a well worn trail that was actually a short nature hike that we had either ignored or passed over on previous visits, so we took the brief walk into the woods there, thoroughly enjoying ourselves along the way. It leads to a nice creek, where we took quite a few pictures and just hung around awhile. There's actually what looks like a little mill house back there if anyone is interested. The complete walk takes probably 30 - 45 minutes, and it's easy going.
Back to the car, we entered the one-way portion of Roaring Fork, and just putted along, taking in the smells of the newly fallen rain on the forest. This was another one of those instances in which that slightly sweet hint of cinnamon was in the air, and we took it all in with complete satisfaction.
Making stops along the way, we got out of the vehicle to walk along a path for a short distance, wishing we had decided to hike this day despite the wet ground. We were anxious to see The Place of a Thousand Drips, since the recent rain would have it at full capacity, and it did not disappoint. Others seemed to have the same idea, as folks jumped out of their cars with enthusiasm, snapping photos and posing for them. It's really great to see the young teens having such a great time. I wish I had their energy :-)
We left Roaring Fork for town, parking at the garage at the main intersection where the road forks along the strip. Folks should know that this welcome center is now closed. Not sure of they moved or just eliminated it, but the merchandise they sold can be found elsewhere. We just always took a few minutes to browse there in the past, and were only slightly disappointed.
On to Pancake Pantry for lunch, and we had the traditional French Toast with Cinnamon Syrup. Tasty as usual, too expensive, and it's become more about reflection on past trips and routine than a "must do". I could skip it and still have a complete trip. Probably will next time.
Shopping in The Village consisted of The Candy Kitchen for family, Coffee and Company for a couple of pounds, both whole bean and ground,(drinking Pride of the Smokies at this moment), bought some hiking pants on sale at "The Day Hiker", and my wife bought some kinda lotion that she can't get at home at one on those places that makes me sneeze. I backed out of entering this place, sat out in the courtyard and watched folks and their various activities, which makes for great entertainment.
Back into the vehicle for a trip to Food City, picked up some dinner and returned to our haven, Amazing Grace, where the promise of scenic solitude, a great meal with Bratwurst cooked on the grill, sauteed onions, peppers and garlic, reading the local papers, and listening to the songs of crickets, birds and the far off cries of woodpeckers singing their sunset tunes. I could also hear my closest neighbors, laughing and enjoying themselves on their own elevated perch, and while I have avoided the closer proximity to other folks in the past, my complete satisfaction with my surroundings is such that I simply want to join in with my own smiles and laughter, content to share the wonder of it all, and relaxing in complete agreement.
The next Thursday morning brought in our last full day in the GSMNP, and we were going to get into the woods. Although we took our time getting out that morning, we were excited about getting back to Roaring Fork. We had beaten up on ourselves just a bit for not hiking in there the day before, and we wanted to get in a waterfall hike since we hadn't done one on this trip, and Baskin's Creek Falls was something we had yet to explore in all of the years passing by the trail head.
Getting away just before lunch once again, we parked at the second Rainbow Falls parking area, put on our packs, grabbed hiking sticks and set off up the road, one tenth of a mile to the trail head, which does have a couple of scattered parking spaces, yet if you use them you will be forced to drive the entire motor trail, something we were not sure we were going to undertake.
The trail inward from that point is mostly downhill, planing out evenly in places. It was a relatively warm day, and as we came out from under the canopy in spots, we could feel the warmth of the sunshine, and standing still too long would bring a few bugs, nothing biting, just a little irritating.
Lots of quartz along the way early in this hike. Really easy walking on the way in, and as you pass the sign for the cemetary on the left, you are close to the falls. We kept going, passing through some rhododendron, where it looked as though some small growth had been bent over sharply by a bear, grubbing for food underneath the root systems. Fairly fresh disturbance, and having passed only two groups if hikers on the main trail,(not the off shoot to the falls) we proceeded with caution.
I'm not sure what I expected to see at the falls, but since this is not a well traveled or often talked about hike, we were astounded by the sheer wall of rock that rose some (estimated) 60-80 feet on both sides of the tremendous downfall of water. The recent rains added to the thunderous roar of the impact as the water reached the surface, and as it is the peak of Spring, and sure the volume was at it's peak also. Simply a breath taking display of nature, and we quickly shed our packs to venture across the shallow eddies and rock hopped a bit to catch photos and scenes from both sides.
As we sat down for a snack of trail mix and bars, kicked back on some rocks and just basking in the moment, a large group with two adults and probably 6 younger folks, mostly teens, joined us beside the display. Those kids made short work of hopping from rock to rock, climbing the heights, and making it look easy. No fear whatsoever :-) Ah,...to be invincible once again! (I'm thinking about things like the cost of health insurance, and how they would carry me out of there)
Sadly, it's back up the trail, since every good thing must come to an end. Of course the trip in was mostly downhill, which only means we are in for a climb. Nothing we can't get done with relative ease since we have learned to take our time and rest periodically. It's still fun to challenge one's self on the inclines, feeling the leg burn and denying yourself a break until the hill has been topped, yet when the group we had met at the falls passed us by, most of them at a pace that was impressive, and I understand that 46 years old, while not yet over the hill, is not exactly middle aged. I will retract this statement if I'm still hiking at 92 :-)
After exiting the trail at the road, we started the short stroll toward the parking lot, where we stopped to chat and answer a couple of questions from an older couple, inquiring about the availability of parking at Grotto Falls. Told then we hadn't been that far, but encouraged them to make the drive in anyway. They had sent their younger travel companions ahead on foot to seek out this info. I'm thinking, just drive in there anyway, it's worth it just to see the forest, and it's not some extended journey. Oh well.
I'm heading back to the vehicle to drink some water and shed this pack. I guess that was on my mind when I heard a noise just to my right.
She was completely still, as was I. As she gazed at me, I'm at a dead stop, and my first though was truly not one of fear, but at the wonder of the sheer perfection and beauty of my blessing.
I'm less than 16ft away from a Mother bear and two Cubs!
She's looking right at me, not feeding, and not moving,..so I start backing up slowly. After a few steps, I start talking to my wife, who is about twenty feet behind, having lingered while talking to the couple. I'm saying, "get the camera out of my pack" over and over while she says "What? "What"? Of course my eyes are on the bear, and my back is to my wife, so she thinks I'm saying "get back" Get Back".
Finally I say, "Look over to the right" and she gets it :-)
Then a truck pulled up, and at that point I didn't know about the second cub, since the mother was in front of it. And I could only see the cub on my side. As the fella driving the truck told me about the second, the mother bear moved back a bit into the forest, sending her cubs up two trees, which were narrow and standing side by side.
We snapped some pictures, and while I think they will turn out well, the Mom was then partially obscured by the leaves and limbs, and I have to wonder what type of great shots I could have gotten if the truck hadn't pulled up, but that's life.
Of course then it became a circus. Folks seemed to come out of thin air, seemingly whipping tripods and camouflaged zoom lenses from their back pockets :-) Some were careful, others were stupid.
One guy in a blue T-Shirt and a graying, slight beard ventured into the woods, brushing limbs aside as if if were wanting to shake hands with her. At that point, I just had to say something. I shouted, "hey fella, that's NOT a good idea!"
Then what looked to be a 8-9 year old child started following his lead, and I said "Now a child is following you in there", so never looking my way, he started to back out. I simply cannot describe how ignorant that fella was, and he came within 10 feet of a mother bear, with two cubs,..freshly out of the den. I hope he reads this post, because he needs to educate himself about putting himself and others in harm's way. I still can't get over it.
So we hung around a bit at a distance, watched the crowd grow, and as one cub got tired and climbed down, we left the area. It was simply a magnificent way to finish our last hike,..on our last day, and it stamped the perfect ending to our adventure.
The next morning found us packing the vehicle, after watching the dawn of another perfect day from our paradise. My wife turned her head as we drove away from the cabin, and I knew she was fighting tears, and I surely cannot blame her. I can feel the lump in my own throat at this moment as the memory is so clear.
We had our last drive through the park, on our way to Townsend to fill the tank for the journey home, and since we were certainly in no hurry, we traveled the Foothills Parkway, catching every last glimpse of the our favorite place, with the wondrous display of God's creation, that will soon become the memories that sustain us.
It's like leaving family, as you see them diminish, waving from the front porch, and at that moment in time, you understand that life is so short and precious. We understand at these times that anyone of them could be our last, and that our time in this world flies by so fast.
So much of what we love should never be viewed through a rear view mirror.