Monday, October 20, 2014

brilliant blaze

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.  
--Jack London (1876-1916) American short-story Writer and Novelist.

Above: Early morning shot of Grandfather Mountain from MacRae Meadows.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

rhythms of nature

Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night; and thus he would never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.
--Hal Borland (1900-1978) American author and journalist.

Above: The Linn Cove Viaduct as seen from Rt. 221 below. The colors were at peak in the area in and around Grandfather Mountain this week. This weekend the leaves were a little past peak in the highest elevations where many trees had already lost their leaves. But as you can see from the shot above, there are still places that could be described as 'peak color.' I've always loved the winding Rt. 221 connecting Blowing Rock to Linville.  

To the left, leaves swirl at the base of a small waterfall found beside the road.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

boundless love

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.
--Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet.

Above: Even a dark, stormy day could not dull the vibrant, autumn colors of Grayson Highlands. More information and directions here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

ember glow

As Autumn ignites, 
The leaves burn with ember glow. 
They fall like ashes. 
-Jack Taggert- 

Pictured above is Beaverdam Creek on a rainy autumn day. The creek flows past what has been called "the world's shortest tunnel," Backbone Rock. This tunnel was drilled through a narrow spur ridge in 1901 to connect a railroad between Shady Valley, TN and Damascus, VA.

The area is great to explore (preferably on a non-rainy day). There's a nearby waterfall, a trail leading to an overlook above the tunnel, as well as picnic and camping facilities.

For directions, click here.
See also the Cherokee National Forest webpage.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

autumn on the creeper trail

When you try to control everything, you enjoy nothing. Sometimes you just need to relax, breathe, let go and live in the moment. 

Above: The rain didn't stop people from enjoying autumn on the Virginia Creeper Trail. :) Leaves are near peak in the Mount Rogers/Grayson Highlands area. I'll be posting more pics of my trip this week.

Here's a somewhat grainy and shaky 'hyperlapse' I took of driving through the Mt. Rogers Recreation Area. What a fun app! Hard to believe, but I was driving slowly (and yes, mom, safely) -- the app speeds everything up and stabilizes the final video as well. You can see that fall is progressing very nicely in southwest Virginia!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

forward together

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. 
--Helen Keller (1880-1968) American Author.

Above: Beauty Spot sunset.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


The View from Horseback Ridge looking out toward Erwin, TN
Roan Mountain as seen from Unaka Mountain
View south from Unaka Mountain Overlook
Looking toward Mt. Mitchell from Unaka Mtn Overlook
Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots. 
--Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French poet, novelist, and dramatist. 

Here are autumn scenes from Unaka Mountain. As you can see, it's not quite at peak yet. Maybe this cold snap will speed things along.  There are pockets of brilliant color, but many of the mountains still have a ways to go. Still it was a beautiful day to take in the breathtaking vistas of Unaka Mountain Road.

For directions and a discussion of all there is to see and do on Unaka, click here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

White House Cliffs Trail

The views from White House Rock Cliffs are phenomenal - especially this time of year when the leaves are beginning to change. But the hike to get there is grueling. The trail is being established (or perhaps, reestablished) and is not well marked or obvious in places. And while the first two-thirds of the hike is relatively easy, the last 1/3 is a calf-burner, straight up a mountain side.  I recommend going on a cool day and that you take some water along.  And because the trail isn't always immediately clear, study the map below to get a sense of its general trajectory as it circles around the mountain.

If you've been on I-26 heading from NC to TN, you may have seen the rugged cliffs off to the west within Rocky Fork, north of Flag Pond, TN, this is known as White House Cliffs.  The links below will show you this view.  It's not an especially long hike, just under 1.5 miles each way. But it's one of the harder hikes I've experienced in this area in terms of vertical climb in a short distance. Nothing is hand-over-hand, just a very steep trail. So be prepared for that!

iPhone panorama of the incredible views (click photo to enlarge)

Once on top, you can explore and climb down the from the steep, rocky pinnacle to the actual rock outcropping that is visible from the interstate. But from what I've read (again, see links below) this is very difficult and also dangerous to do.  But as the dog (and I) were worn out and in need of water, I took some shots from the summit and headed back down the mountain.

Directions: Take the Flag Pond exit off of I-26 (exit #50), at the stop sign turn left onto Higgins Creek Road. Drive ½ mile, til you reach Rt. 23, turn right and travel 2 ¼ mi. thru Flag Pond, then turn left on Rocky Fork Road. Take your time driving up this road, the creek offers amazing cascades and waterfalls. After ¾ mi. you will see a gravel pull-off to the left and a small parking area. Park here (out of the way of the gate) and follow the gravel lane into Rocky Fork on foot. I think of the trail to the cliffs as broken up into three distinct segments....
The main road within Rocky Fork
1. You'll follow the main road (photo left) into Rocky Fork for about 1/2 mile, past the Triple Falls and up and around the bend until you are almost to where the road forks. On your right you'll see a wooden stake with an orange flag tied to it (photo below left). This is the trail head to White House Cliffs Trail.

White House Cliffs Trail Head
2. This next segment follows a small creek bed, with the trail sometimes running along the stream, other times actually in the stream. So old shoes are helpful. In dryer months, this stream doesn't run. After a time it becomes clear this trail is actually part of an old logging road. It's fairly easy to follow the trail at this point and the elevation gain is gradual. Eventually, you'll reach a high point (saddle, gap) where the continuing logging road starts to descend. At this saddle, look to your right and you'll see the trail continues.

Can you see the trail? :)
3. This is where it gets steep. And the trail isn't always so clear. Occasionally you'll find a helpful orange or pink flag, but these are few and far between. Watch your footing and pay attention to where you're going. It's easy to get turned around. You will soon arrive at a very obvious survey marker (photo below), and the trail makes another sharp right hand turn. Pay attention to where you just came from, this is the only point at which I had a hard time figuring out where to go when coming back down the mountain. The trail now become (gasp) even steeper as it follows the ridge up to the top. Keep at it and your efforts will be rewarded with amazing panoramic views.  There are times near the top where the trail is a little unclear, but again, take your time and look things over. This will be helpful when coming back down!

Survey marker where trail takes sharp turn
Additional Descriptions and Resources:
Monkey's Mask (scroll down after clicking)
Far Outside the Wire

For a terrific map of the White House Cliffs Trail, click here.
For a helpful map giving an overview of the trails of Rocky Fork, click here.

The photo at the very top was my favorite from my  trip... and it's from my iPhone. So glad I carried up all my gear only to have the iPhone out-perform my Nikon.  Ugh. :P

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Osceola Island

Went for a walk around Osceola Island yesterday evening and took some photos with the new iPhone 6. It's amazing how far cell phone camera technology has come in the last 10 years. I think my first flip phone had a whopping 1.3 mega pixels - and the images weren't anything you'd ever print or do much of anything with. Today there are colleges offering iPhone photography courses.

Osceola Island is a terrific place to have a picnic and then explore. It's located a mile below South Holston Dam outside of Bristol, TN. A footbridge leads visitors to a 1.8 mile long gravel trail around the island (map here). On both sides of the island are the unique weir dams you see in the photos. Designed to aerate the river below, the waterfalls only flow when the dam is generating electricity. You can find out when they are generating by clicking here.

Here is a PDF map of the nearby area.

Because the dam generates electricity by pulling water from the bottom of South Holston Reservoir, the water in the river below the dam (called the tailwaters) is very cold. In fact, even on a hot summer day, the water temperature will only be in the mid-50s at midday. Perfect conditions for trout fishing.

Monday, September 15, 2014

veiled beauty

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.
--Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) English Romantic Poet.

Above: View from Grassy Ridge in the Roan Highlands.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

vibrant poser

The more ugly, older, more cantankerous, more ill and poorer I become, the more I try to make amends by making my colors more vibrant, more balanced and beaming.
--Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Dutch Painter.

Above: An eastern newt, also known as a red eft. I found this little guy along the trail on Grassy Ridge, he struck a nice pose for me on this rock. :)

Monday, September 8, 2014

a moment of clarity

Keep your head clear. It doesn’t matter how bright the path is if your head is always cloudy. 

A shot of the the Appalachian Trail on Round Bald in the Roan Highlands. It was such a misty, foggy morning, but occasionally it would all clear away and bring a moment of clarity to the mountain. :)

Friday, September 5, 2014

wherever the trail may lead

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.
--J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English Author. 

 Above: The Appalachian Trail on Round Bald in the Roan Highlands.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Firescald Branch Falls

There's not much information out there for this one. Firescald Branch Falls is a series of cascades found in the Frog Level area of Dennis Cove in Carter County, TN. While it's a long drive to get there, the good news is that it's not much of a hike. However, you will encounter thick rhododendrons on the trail, which will make climbing up the falls a challenge (and a workout). But it's worth the effort. I see from the photos linked below that I stopped short of the third tier of waterfalls here, so I'll have to go back out. I went as far as I thought the trail went, but it appears there's one more cascade beyond what I saw.

Check out Wendell Dingus' nice images of these cascades. GPS info here

Directions: Drive up Dennis Cove Road to Frog Level. I have detailed directions and a map here. Once at the parking area for Frog Level, look to the left and you'll see a trail closely following the stream into the rhododendrons.  It is probably no more than 100 feet up the trail that you'll see the first cascade. Continue on, pushing through the rhododendron thickets, and you'll discover more beautiful scenes.  This is a fairly small stream, so you'll want to visit after a good rain.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Frog Level

Finally made my way to a remote area of Carter County, TN called Frog Level. It is out there! The people who probably know this area best are the fishermen who wade the many streams in search for brown and brook trout. But there are also many trails to be explored for those interested in hiking and camping.  Visiting for the first time, I had to go to the topo map to try to make sense of all the intersecting trails and streams. I've done my best in creating a basic overview map of all I've discovered in Dennis Cove for those venturing into this wilderness for the first time.

One of the meadows found at Frog Level
Most drive up the very steep and curvy Dennis Cove Road in order to hike to the spectacular Laurel Falls or to camp at Dennis Cove Campground, perhaps also visiting Upper and Lower Dennis Cove Falls. Fewer are aware of Coon Den Falls. And although I had always heard of Frog Level, I rarely came across people who had been there or found much information on the internet. Though it's remote, it's worth the trip -- and the good news is... you can drive within a 1/2 mile of it. :)

Laurel Fork after a rain
The naming or origin of Frog Level remains somewhat of a mystery to me. The area does have a number of creeks and smaller streams. And after a heavy rain (as on the day we went), you'll encounter bogs in the road/trail (wear an old pair of shoes). But Frog Level itself is a pleasant area of open meadow. I saw one reference online that a railroad spur once came through the area to haul timber. Another said these open meadows were where timber was stacked awaiting transport, and are now mowed and maintained by the forest service as a wildlife habitat. 

Small Pond found in Frog Level
Directions: From Rt. 67/321 in Hampton, TN, take Dennis Cove Road for 4.8 miles to the Dennis Cove Campground. From there it is another 1 3/4 miles (road eventually becomes gravel) to an unmarked forest service road to your right (gate should be open) that leads you to Frog Level. This narrow, gravel road is in surprisingly good shape, but I would still definitely recommend a high clearance vehicle for this trip. Although it's only 2.1 miles from the main road to the cul-de-sac parking area, it'll seem longer than that.  Park and you'll find where the road crosses the creek (it's now gated). (btw...If you take the trail to your left, up this small stream, you will quickly come to Firescald Falls).

The old road can be muddy!
Crossing the creek... You can try to rock hop, but you're going to end up getting wet eventually anyway, so you might as well just take the plunge. You'll cross three shallow creeks in rapid succession before coming to the first meadow. Continue on you'll immediately come to a larger meadow after crossing Laurel Fork -- in the far corner of this meadow is a small pond (pictured here).  Here you'll come to a fork with Lacy Trap heading southwest to eventually meet up with the AT in 3-4 miles, and Laurel Fork trail which will continue on to the southeast, eventually ending at Walnut Mountain Road.  Laurel Fork Trail actually runs all the way from Dennis Cove to Frog Level and then on to Walnut Mtn Road, for a total of 7.9 miles. It's just a beautiful area -- and a lot of fun to explore. See the Google Map for the satellite view of the meadows (note the AT is mislabeled).  More detailed trail map is here.

If you continue on a little further on the Laurel Fork Trail, you'll come to Upper Laurel Fork Falls and Campbell Falls. Mike Stillwell has written a nice description here.

With all the creek crossings, this is only recommended as a summertime hike!

I'm still learning about this area! If you have advice or suggestions, please leave a comment and let us know.