Monday, January 5, 2009

Cades Cove on a foggy day

After we dropped Curtis and Jeanie off at the airport in Knoxville at 5:30 this morning, Kenny and I decided to head up to the Smokies (since we were already half-way there). Unfortunately, none of the restaurants in Townsend (the last little town before entering the park) were open at 6:15 when we passed through there, so we drove on to Cades Cove and waited for the ranger to open the gate and ate granola bars and drank Power Ade (not exactly my idea of a good breakfast!). It was pitch dark and raining hard when we got to the parking area by the gate, but soon there were 4 other vehicles waiting to get in. The ranger finally opened the gate at 7:45. It didn't take long before we spotted 4 huge 8-point White-tail deer bucks sparring in the field. We laughed when 3 large tom turkeys strolled by and interrupted them! The lighting was absolutely terrible so none of the photos I took through the spotting scope came out. :(

Later as we drove through the cove, we saw some more tom turkeys. At this time of the year the males and females don't mix, that only happens during breeding season. We enjoyed watching the big guys cross the road.

We saw lots of deer in the fields, including this buck and a doe. I was a little surprised to see them paired off already. All the others we had seen were in herds of all males or all females. This guy looked pretty young in comparison to the others we had seen earlier.

The squirrels were very active, many were collecting walnuts.

It never ceases to amaze me how dumb some people can be! I was amazed to see these 2 guys approaching this well-armed buck in the field near the Cades Cove visitor center. I yelled to them that they were "pushing their luck", greatly embarassing my husband! People don't realize that many more people have been killed by "Bambi" than the "Big Bad Wolf". Their hooves and antlers are very sharp and they know how to use them!

I was very excited to see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker woodpecker
(Sphyrapicus varius) while we were walking along a trail at the visitor center. It was only the second one I'd ever seen. The bad light plagued me and I wasn't able to get as good a photo as I would have liked. The other photo I have of one was taken at my bird feeder a couple of years ago.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Foggy hike to Piney Falls

On Jan. 3, we took our son Curtis and his girlfriend Jeanie to Piney Falls State Natural Area in Spring City. It was a very "iffy" day, we drove through rain showers off and on most of the way down there. The fog was quite thick up on the plateau, so we didn't have any views of the valley as we drove up Hwy. 68 to Grandview.

Upper Piney Falls is an 80-foot drop from the cliff above. It is possible to walk behind the falls on the hiking trail, but be prepared to get a little damp and muddy. The falls can be viewed from the top too. Since there are no safety rails, this is not a good trail to take small children.

Click here to see a movie of Upper Piney Falls

We saw a splash of color on the ground with these pretty red Wintergreen berries. If you crush the leaves, they have a pleasant spicy aroma. Being in the Heath Family, these plants like acidic soil and thrive in pine forests. There are also lots of Mountain Laurel bushes and Trailing Arbutus vines growing at the top of the falls.
We also saw a few patches of red Partridge Berries.

Lower Piney Falls is located a short way downstream. It requires a very steep hike to get down to it and then this is the best view that you can get. There is no trail to the base of this waterfall. I guess you could rappel down to it if you wanted to lug climbing gear back there.

The hike back up from the Lower Falls is STEEP!

The Cumberland Plateau is made up of ancient, thick deposits of sandstone. It is very common to see "rock houses" like this along the cliffsides. In many places there is dry sand or soil, a good place to look for "doodlebugs" (antlion larvae) or to wait out a rainstorm. The sandstone erodes in strange patterns in some areas beneath the cliff. These holes look like giant fossilized honeycombs! Birds, spiders and wasps often use these holes as nesting sites.