Mules…

Thank you, Mule.

I’ve mentioned already that this hike, sponsored by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, is titled “Take a Load Off: Mule Assisted Camping 0514”.  My brother was being thoughtful of me and his wife, thinking that we would be better off having assistance from some friendly mules. The mules have agreed to carry a duffel bag for each of us which will lighten our load considerably.

On our first day we will meet at about 10 am to have our equipment checked over by our guide, and then our tenting equipment, some of our food and clothing – basically anything we don’t need on the descent – will be packed in the bag allowed us. I think our mule train will start that afternoon. I’m guessing they will go down the Bright Angel Trail, cross the Colorado on the Black Bridge and stay the night at Phantom Ranch (see this pic of mules crossing scary bridge). Almost everything that goes to Phantom Ranch goes by mule, including supplies for the canteen meals and goods sold in the store. Duffel transport is a common expense for hikers, especially ones going up who don’t want all that stuff on their own backs.

A lot of people ride the mules to Phantom Ranch too but the park video says the people getting off the mules are just as tired and sore as the ones who hiked the trail. Excuse me for laughing, haha. When you don’t ride for hours at a time as a regular thing, that is exactly what happens.  

Our hike guidelines give specific instructions to hikers who might happen to meet a mule train on the trail. We are to back up against the uphill side of the trail and wait quietly until the last mule has passed and is at least 50 feet away. Although the mules are well trained and mostly stick to business, if they are harassed or startled it can result in an accident. It is a real shame when a mule is lost off the trail, as you can imagine. And worse yet if a hiker falls, which is why we are given the uphill side. Lucky us.

Book Cover for Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Mules have a real history in the Canyon. An old children’s book which I read to my children years ago was “Brighty of the Grand Canyon”. It was kind of a history lesson of the prospecting days, when miners traveled the canyon looking for gold, with a mule carrying their provisions. Brighty, the mule, is the star of the book – kind of the Black Beauty of the mule world.  A great book about the canyon, and not just for kids. I loved it. Earlier this month a reader reminded me of this story that she had also read and loved. I’m not sure but I think Brighty might have been a burro (small donkey), which is different from a mule, but close enough for these purposes.

The little corral at Phantom Ranch looks just the same as it did when first constructed in the 1920’s. I’m hoping to hang out there a little and talk to some of the handlers because I’m curious about where the mules come from and how they are trained. I know they are very reliable and sure footed, which makes them a good fit for terrain in the canyon.

Kaibab

I have just been looking at the Grand Canyon on Google Earth. From a distance I could not tell what I was seeing. It was the crooked line of a river made broad by lighter borders unevenly stretching out on either side. Zooming in closer I suddenly saw height and depth. The dark areas were shadow of high cliffs. The light areas were less steep slopes with sparse vegetation. The trails were white lines zig zagging down the descents and they went on and on, seemingly forever, as I followed the route our hike will take.

Google Earth is a unique way of seeing the Canyon – vertically, looking straight down. Although it doesn’t compare to actually being there, it gives a dramatic view of how large and complicated the formations are. Look at it if you can.

I always have a hard time understanding the lay of land from written descriptions but I’m going to try to describe this larger area, and show you where Kaibab fits in. Stick with me here.

A high, mountainous plateau goes from east to west across the northern edge of Arizona. It is bisected by the Colorado as it winds it’s way southwest. It’s hard to believe that the river made such a wide, dramatic gash through the plateau that slopes toward the south. On the north side of the river, from east to west, lie the Kaibab, the Kanab, the Uinkaret and the Shivwits Plateaus. On the south side of the river there is the Coconino Plateau and the Hualapai Plateau.  Hundreds of tributaries run down into the Colorado, cutting their own canyons as they go, especially from the north side.  

The Kaibab Plateau “is covered with a beautiful forest, and in the forest charming parks are found…. The plateau has four months of the sweetest summer man has ever  known.” John Wesley Powell

As far as the word Kaibab itself, well, there doesn’t seem to be a known meaning of it on the internet. It is probably a Paiute Native American word and it’s attached to many things in the Grand Canyon area. There is the Kaibab National Forest, which is home to a herd of large antlered deer (well fed and well managed), there is the Kaibab squirrel which is nearly extinct but still holding on, there is the large Kaibab Plateau north of the canyon and, of course, the Kaibab Trail with its South and North branches. Our descent will be on the South Kaibab Trail, and that is for another post.

map of Grand Canyon National Park

Don’t forget to check out the Grand Canyon on Google Earth. It’s amazing!

Journey

The Journey, Getting There from Here

Although I haven’t taken this Grand Canyon hike yet, I have had to figure out how to get there. I did this quite some time ago to make sure that my reservations were in place.  For me, the hike itself was quite an investment and I didn’t want to risk not being there at the right time.

Driving by land is an obvious good choice. My brother and his wife who live about three hours from me, in Wisconsin, are driving and have room in their vehicle for all our equipment.  I am flying out and meeting them before the hike and will be traveling light. Since there are many great places to visit between Wisconsin and Arizona, including many national parks, my brother will be taking his time and may do some other shorter hikes on the way.

Flying into the Grand Canyon area usually means going to one of the nearby cities with an airport – Flagstaff, Phoenix or Las Vegas. Although there is a small airport in Grand Canyon Village, service there is  limited to private and charter flights. From the cities, car rental is the advisable travel means. My brother’s approach will be from the east which meant that Flagstaff was the most logical choice for me. It is, more or less, on his way to the canyon. We will meet in Flagstaff and drive to Grand Canyon Village the day before our trip starts.

Did I make it easy enough to see where the cities with airports are?

Our first day of the hike requires us to be present at 10 am, so we have arranged lodging in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim within the National Park. It is a small village and has limited year-round lodging. There are a dozen or more hotels including Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, the Motor Lodge and Yavapai Lodge. These hotels have been hosting visitors since the park became a tourist destination and several of them are quite famous. El Tovar is right on the Rim and built like a European castle!  Lodging is also available on the North Rim and at Phantom Ranch inside the canyon, which I will mention in a future post.

My brother was able to get a hotel room, but I was not. Instead, I have reservations at Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village. I will be tenting the night of our arrival, the first night of the hike before the descent, the two nights at Phantom Ranch, and the night after we return to the South Rim. Hopefully, I can survive five nights of sleeping on the ground.

My airport nearest my home is 240 miles away in Minneapolis so I have transportation complications on that end as well. I will probably travel there the night before the flight and do a park and fly stay at a motel. Living in the wild of northern Wisconsin has its aggravations…

There is so much more that I could say about getting to the various destinations in the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even mention much about the North Rim or the West Rim. It’s a big place.

Elevation!

Yes, ooh aah!

I am not going to give a lot of statistics on elevation in this post. What is significant about elevation, as you would expect, is that this is a very deep canyon. Viewed from the rim, the Colorado River at the bottom looks like a tiny ribbon when, in fact, it is quite wide in all the places that you can see it.

Standing at various lookouts on the rim during my first brief trip, I remember feeling that rush looking out over the cliffs. You almost can’t help but think of what it would be like to fall, or jump. The drops are so extreme.  ( I was saddened to hear the news last week of a tourist who fell to his death. Taking pictures can be hazardous. )

The rims vary from 6000 to 8500 feet above sea level. The drop down to the river at the bottom of the canyon varies from 3500 to 6000 feet. Our gain/loss of elevation on Day 2 and Day 4 of the hike will be about 5,000 feet. That is enough difference in elevation to produce a climate change. It is often much cooler up on the rim and quite warm to very hot at the bottom.

That might make it tricky to pack the right clothing. In May, when I am going, it should not be oppressively hot at the bottom and hopefully, it won’t be snowing up on the rim.

This is what I can expect for May weather:

South Rim (where we start) Max 70 degrees, Min 39 degrees, Precip 0.66 inches

Inner Gorge (lowest point) Max 92 degrees, Min 63 degrees, Precip 0.36 inches

One very curious fact – the plateaus on both sides of the canyon are higher than the elevation upriver. Why did the path of the river run from low to high elevation when it first began cutting the Grand Canyon? Of course, it didn’t. There are several theories about why it appears this way. None of them are certain. Geology is sometimes very strange and although it has stories to tell, we don’t understand them all.

I will end with a picture of one of the bridges that we will cross at the bottom of the canyon – a bridge that still seems scary high, even though it is dwarfed by the walls of the canyon.

It’s difficult to see but there is a mule train crossing the Black Bridge to Phantom Ranch. This footbridge has a solid floor to keep the animals from looking down and freaking out.

Up North: The First Snow

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The hydrangeas never give up, and they look real good with a dusting of snow.

Today it snowed. It wasn’t dramatic. The temperature has been inching down toward the freezing mark over the last week or two. We have had a lot of rain, which usually will spoil the fall color and make the leaves turn uniformly brown and dull. But this year the colors have held out brilliantly. Today, every time we looked out the window the weather was changed from our last observation. The sun would come out briefly and be followed within minutes by a snow squall.

Since I will so soon be taking pictures of snow, I need to finish letting you all know how beautiful autumn has been. I am so blessed by God the artist, that I don’t have to take a vacation and travel to see the woods in glorious color. It’s right here in my backyard. Last Sunday, after lunch with the family, we didn’t want to go straight home. Mom, the husband and I drove out in the country, to the lake, just to see what the trees were doing. Later, I got to explore a park I had never been to with my brother and his wife. It was a wonderful day – that’s what “full of wonder” means. My  phone is so full of pictures – no way could I show them all – but here are some.

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Seriously, the air itself takes on a glow when there is this much gold and yellow overhead.

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But it’s the abundance of reds that stand out this year.

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A path to remember – my hiking companions Den, MaryPat and Scruffy.

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I love the color contrast with the remaining green. We came upon this pond in the forest – magical.

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At the lake, a bald eagle did a circle of the shore while we watched.

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Spatter technique – there was a lot of it this year.

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The color is close and touchable. It is easy to feel submersed in it.

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The goodness is everywhere to be seen, even down on the path.

There are so many more – it was hard to choose. I wish you all could see it. Part of the reason it is so beautiful is that it’s also so short lived, fleeting. As I said, today it snowed…

Mayo Clinic Day 2

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Geese on the run at Silver Lake. Ok, they’re not all running.

It’s Day 2 and I”m beginning to know my way around, where the different buildings are, where to pick up the shuttle, where to go to eat. The husband is getting better at it too, but he doesn’t go anywhere alone and likes to have someone to follow.

Our appointments were not scheduled the way we would have wished but we were told it was possible to change some of them. The schedulers told us “Be a checker!” and wrote it on our instruction sheet. I had to ask what that meant. It’s their suggestion that you be on hand for the test you want to get, in case someone cancels. It’s like “standby” at the airport. We were on hand at 7am and 12 pm, the designated times, with no success.  But again, the people working here are all helpful and so good at what they do. It wasn’t a bad day.

After our morning wait, we went down to the business office and asked about our insurance authorization for the needed PET scan. It was not a busy place and a very competent person helped us right away. She made some calls and told me that Dr. Jones’s report had been sent to the insurance company. I will call tomorrow morning and see if it has had any effect. And again, no lines, prompt service, and people asking us what we needed before we had to ask them. Can this place be real?

Going back and forth as many times as we did gave us some good experience riding the shuttle. It is easier and cheaper than driving and will be our main mode of transportation.

We are finding ourselves very easy to entertain. Today we shopped at Walmart, took naps, read, watched TV and ate our snacks in the room. We’re doing one meal a day at a restaurant. Tonight’s choice was Outback.

I am trying to resurrect memories of my year in Rochester while in nursing school. It was so long ago that I’m afraid my dorm attached to Methodist Hospital, Clara Madsen Hall, has been torn down and replaced by some larger, imposing building. I couldn’t find it. Almost everything downtown around the Clinic itself looks unfamiliar to me, although the main street, Broadway, still had many older buildings. There are also some one way streets that I don’t remember being there (but that I will never forget again…).

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Ducks and geese abound. Watch where you step.

After dinner we drove around a bit and I was relieved to find one place was much the same. Silver Lake park was still there. The lake itself was part of the Zumbro River and there was a power plant connected in some way with it. Because the water was warmed by the power plant it didn’t ice over as quickly as other bodies of water in the area. It was home to great multitudes of Canadian geese all year round and quite a sight to see. I remember times when it was cold enough to warrant goose rescue attempts for those animals that were getting frozen into the ice. The geese are still there, along with a sign asking people not to feed them. A large goose produces 3 lbs. of poop per day (who knew?) and all that creates a significant bacteria problem for the lake.

Tomorrow we will be on standby for the neuro-psych evaluation again, and hopefully will get time to visit my Aunt Evelyn in the afternoon. The husband (and Mom and I) are worried about Julia. Hurricane Florence is heading toward North Carolina and Greensboro is in the center of the all important cone of possibility. We know what hurricanes are like… This world is full of things we can’t control. How plain that is. Just sayin’…

A to Z: Selling Our House (Letter T)

T  for Touch Ups, Thresholds, Tools, Titles, Timetables, Temporary Troubles, Trips, Tired, Thankfulness

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I should have added Trash to the T list because it seems we do indeed have a roomful of it to go to the curb each trash day.

At the beginning of this project, selling the house, there were big endeavors like whole house painting, like reworking an electric panel, like moving the renters out. Now some of those things are past and for the last two or three days I’ve been working on smaller details. I call them touch ups.

The rental house with fresh paint looks (and smells) better, but amazingly I was left with more touching up than I expected. I didn’t think I was that picky about paint, but I’ve found that the line between baseboard and wall is more important to me than I remembered. I was glad there was left over paint. And as I scrubbed the floors around the edges, there was paint spatter to be scraped off.

There’s something about a completely empty room that draws attention to things like switch plates and electrical outlets. Really, what else is there to look at? Some of them are beige, some are white, sometimes the cover plate is one color and the switch itself is the other – so noticeable, in not a good way. I am not ambitious enough to make them all the same throughout the house but I did try to deal with the ones that were close enough to be seen together. I like white.

All the heating/cooling vents had been removed for painting, and I guess I must have said I would put them all back. Some of these were really old and rusty so “touching up” means cleaning and painting them. Bath fans needed new grills put on. One of the bath vanities had curiously lost two door knobs and a drawer handle which needed replacing. Light bulbs were missing or burned out in numerous places. Door stops and wall protectors were needed. Today alone, I made two trips to the hardware store and it’s been this way most of last week. I am getting very familiar with the layout, and it’s a big store.

All those other T words in the title have meaning for me, especially the last one – thankfulness. Time, another T word, has brought great changes. I am amazed that we are this far along and thankful that each day brings a little more progress.

 

Times and Travels: Orca Watching

The waters of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are home to many kinds of sea mammals. Some of the most exciting ones to encounter are the pods of whales that roam around the islands of Puget Sound and the Canadian boundary waters. On our recent trip to San Juan Island we were hosted on a small excursion boat with a crew of one, Captain Jim. Many thanks to Ryan’s parents for setting up this unusual outing, and for ordering perfect weather for carrying it out.

Our excursion started the west side of San Juan Island, the small harbor of Mitchell Bay. The whale watching boats are independently owned and operated by men who know the islands and surrounding waters well. We were six in number and a pretty good fit for the captain’s boat. We set out from the harbor with no idea of where to look for whales – a problem which was solved by communicating with numerous other boats on the water. The closest pod of orcas that had been spotted was about an hour north, close to the Canadian border so off we went.

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I loved the tiny cabins at this resort. Have to go back and stay longer!

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Captain Jim getting us on his boat.

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Captain Jim’s boat is equipped with GPS, depth finders, binoculars, and a bathroom!

The sun was out, the temperature was moderate, the water was relatively quiet. All this was not the usual. We went north and west to the Strait of Georgia. You really need to look on the map sometime in order to know how crazy the international boundary is in that part of North America. It zigs and zags through the islands and is connected to some little known history of the Pig War. I had never heard of this war but most of the islanders can tell the story and it is rather colorful.  By the time we located the orcas we were in the Strait of Georgia within sight of Vancouver, in Canadian waters.

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Another whale watching boat and the ferry on the nearly glassy smooth Strait of Georgia

The Strait is a very large area and often has ocean size swells, but as I said, it was almost glassy still. We had Dramamine with us but didn’t need it at all. There were three or four other boats watching the pods with us as we followed them along. The orcas are not whales but are the largest mammals in the dolphin family. They travel in social groups, as large as 40 members, that get numbered and are recognizable by individual dorsal fin characteristics. They are often called killer whales because they are skilled hunters and feed on other marine mammals. They cooperate in the hunt, acting a bit like a pack of wolves.

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Exhale!

If I remember right, we were watching pod 34 and possibly pod 37, which were both resident pods. They stay close year round, whereas other pods travel through as transients.  A number of dorsal fins would appear as the orcas came up to breathe, and we would hear the rush of air as they exhaled. They would dive again and reappear farther ahead.  We kept hoping they would find something to feed on and actually breach completely out of the water, but that didn’t happen. Boats are restricted from getting closer than 200 yards from orcas and are not to block their path or be closer than 400 yards ahead of them but we still got good views. Captain Jim had binoculars for everyone which helped.

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We used binoculars.

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And evidently not just for the whales.

 

After an hour or so of watching, we headed back through the islands, often slowing to photograph the awesome views. Mt. Baker is the volcano visible in many of the photos. What a perfect day it was to be out on the water in the PNW!

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Esther and Ryan enjoying the sun and the water

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Gorgeous scenery like this the whole time.

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Majestic Mt. Baker in the distance

Times and Travels: San Juan Farmer’s Market

I love seeing evidence of people being productive in basic ways, and nothing is more basic than providing food. That is why I enjoy farmers, coming to market to sell to the end user.

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Coming off the ferry at Friday Harbor

San Juan Island is one of many islands in the Puget Sound area of Washington. Ferries are as common as buses around Puget Sound. We took the ferry from Anna Cortes to the small port of Friday Harbor – it happened to be on a Friday too, but that had nothing to do with the name.  We arrived late in the day so it wasn’t until Saturday morning that we returned to Friday Harbor for the San Juan Farmer’s Market.

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Living on an island prompts many people to value independence. They like to produce their needs locally so they don’t have the extra cost of importing from the mainland. The many small farms on the island grow crops, raise animals and bring products to the market in hopes of selling them. I think they enjoy the sense of community as much as anything else. The vendors get to talk with their customers, face to face, explain their wares and answer questions. Shoppers get to see and learn about many interesting products and processes. We were looking for breakfast.

In and around the community center building is where the market is held. It didn’t take us long to find the inside table of baked goods, manned by a couple of local ladies. They were selling all kinds of pastries, quiches, brownies… it all looked like breakfast to us. I bought a pastry and a generous slice of something made with egg, cheese, potato, veggies and pasta. I’m glad we got there when we did because their table was sold out by the time I came back hoping for a brownie. Oh well.

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Music, island style.

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Island produce – good stuff.

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Fresh seafood, cooked on the spot – a popular place.

There were vendors selling crafts as well as food. A potter, some water color artists, some jewelry makers, all gave us shoppers something to look at and consider. There was a trio of musicians providing festive tunes – way better than “elevator music”. Around the perimeter were tables and chairs for eating and visiting. The sun was shining, children were playing, laughter and conversation abounded. Makes you want to go there, doesn’t it? Maybe you should find a farmer’s market near you and check it out this week!

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Yes, they got the last brownie (but they shared).

Great Smoky Mountain Adventure

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The sun rising in the east over our deluxe accomodations on the day of our hike… (I’ve stayed in worse, for sure.)

Time has gone by minute by minute, and our vacation is almost over – something to be looked back upon. As usual, it never seems right to be leaving part of my family anywhere, anytime. Julie and the dog had not yet left when we drove away from the motel.

Yesterday was by far the highlight day of our trip. Julie had to leave Tess the dog at the motel with Dennis the husband while we did our day hikes. Dogs are not allowed on most of the trails in the park. Husbands are allowed, but only if they want to go. Dennis is still not up to hiking and has had an uncertain time with his blood pressure and medicine side effects.

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This hike out and back was only about 2.5 miles but the falls was definitely at a higher elevation, lots of climbing. We didn’t see any llama pack strings.

We chose to go to Grotto Falls first, knowing that it would only get busier as the day progressed. It is a shorter hike and close to Gatlinburg so many people are taking it.  We did the 1.3 mile uphill climb, taking pictures along the way. The woods was beautiful, as was the river. The falls itself is known for the path that goes under the waterfall.  Being there, with that wall of rushing water between me and the world was quite cool, literally. Natural air conditioning courtesy of the turbulence of air and water and shade. It’s a unique and beautiful experience.  People of all ages were standing around on the rocks, nervously watching their children trying to get close to the water, taking pictures, drinking in the aura of the place.

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Does not make for a smooth trail, but very pretty to look at.

We took our own pictures, went a short way up the trail on the other side of the river and then headed back the way we had come. Mount LeConte was more than six miles away up the trail and not on our list for the day.

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The Roaring Fork Nature Trail is a one way motor loop up to Grotto Falls and was a great way to see the forest and several more creeks.  Going back down through the woods was fun but the best part was at the end, nearly into Gatlinsburg, when the line of cars we were in slowed and stopped.  People were out on the road taking pictures of something, which turned out to be a bear. A few seconds later another bear, on the other side of the road, came nearly up to our car. I think it was a mama and cub that got separated.  The mama looked a bit confused and didn’t want to cross with all of us in the way. I hope they got reunited.  WE SAW A BEAR! Unexpected bonus. I’m glad we were in the car.

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Our bear, on her way to check us out.

Our second hike was a loop starting with the Little River Trail, to the Cucumber Gap Trail and ending with the Jakes Creek Trail. We parked and headed upward along one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve had the privilege to see. It was full of rocks, some as big as a small house, and the rapids and pools were everywhere a wonder. This trail was a road in an earlier age when wealthy families from the cities came up to cool off in their summer lodges. The Park Service has since bought the properties and is taking the old buildings down, leaving only the chimneys and fireplaces that look like monuments along the road.

The Cucumber Gap Trail was smaller and more typical of Smoky Mountain hiking trails. It was on this stretch that we noticed the weather was changing. It was getting darker. Then it was thundering and lightning. And then, of course, it was raining.  At first the canopy kept us from getting too wet, but the trail was heading upward still. The canopy was thinning out and providing less shelter. I thought of all the places I wouldn’t want to be in a lightning storm. Sure enough, on top of a mountain with my feet in a puddle was one of them.

These trails are for people when they’re dry, and for water when it’s raining. They become little rivers with slick, muddy bottoms. At times we could walk on the bank above or below the trail (in the poison ivy) and other times there was no option but to get our boots soaked. I was so thankful for my new trekking pole. It was a lifesaver. We stopped taking pictures and wrapped our phones in plastic. You are being spared seeing us looking like drowned rats.

This was a near six mile hike and we decided to say that at least three of those miles were in the rain. We actually enjoyed it, realizing that it was an experience we might easily have missed, since we never would have started out in the rain. The wetness, the uncertainty of the storm, the added difficulty of the trail was just enough of a “rush” to make it memorable. I loved it. Towards the end, as we were searching for the parking lot and our car, we were getting a bit hypothermic. The temperature was down to 67 degrees and we had been wet for quite a while. Now I have a “hiking in the rain story” with each of my daughters. Thankfully this time it wasn’t 32 degrees, and we weren’t camping.

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They actually grind grain and make bread for the restaurant here. Very interesting historical place and the food (and service) was GREAT.

The day ended well with hot showers, dry clothes, and a top notch dining experience at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge.  What can I say? It has been a great trip, hotel expense courtesy of BlueGreen vacations.  I’m writing in the Knoxville Airport, where our flight on Allegiant has been delayed 3 hours. That’s about the only inconvenience we’ve had to endure. And no, we didn’t buy a timeshare, just sayin’…