Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Very Relaxing Trip

Long Branch Cabin at Boyd Mountain Cabins - Maggie Valley, NC
My Home for Five Days Last  Week (April 10-16, 2012

How could one NOT have a very relaxing week when this is where you get to live?  I took off last Tuesday (a week ago) afternoon in my new RAV4 headed for a few days of hiking with friends Gene and Judi in the Cataloochee Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Boyd Mountain Cabins have become one of our favorite "go-to" spots as they are easily accessible from our house in less than 1/12 hours.  The cabins are secluded, safe and secure and make a perfect solo getaway for me.  They are also very near the best entrance to the Cataloochee area of the national park.  Winning combination, right??

Over the past couple of years, I've spent a good bit of time in this area of the park and I always approach a visit here with mixed emotions.  The Cataloochee Valley was once a thriving community. In fact, it was the biggest settlement in what is now the national park boasting nearly 200 buildings scattered throughout the very remote valley.  Only a handful of those buildings are left and the forest has reclaimed much of the farmland and orchards which were their livelihood.  It is said that most of the women and children never left the valley.  The men would leave once each year and travel across the mountains carrying fruit from the orchards to sell and returning with staple items they were unable to grow.  

At the height of prosperity, around 1928, rumors became rampant that the government was going to buy all their land in order to create a national park.  And by 1938, all but a few of the families had moved out of the valley.  Those who refused to move, were ultimately forced out and it is recorded that as they left, their homes were burned in order to ensure they did not return.  

And having spent so much time in this beautiful valley, that's the part with which I have trouble.  These mountains have provided me with more joy, relaxation, miles walked with friends, time spent with Mr. B and the feeling of being so close to God that I am often overcome with love for these mountains and their amazing beauty.  But, on the other hand, I NEVER, EVER wish to forget or take for granted the price that was paid by so many in order for me to have this beauty at my fingertips.  A walk through the Cataloochee Valley will teach you many things if you listen to the quiet and study the surroundings.

On Wednesday, Gene, Judi and I left at what seemed to be dark-thirty, but in reality was 7:15 for the not-so-easy drive from their campground (which is absolutely beautiful, BTW).  One must drive approximately 15 miles over tiny, curvy roads which change from paved to gravel and back to paved just to get down onto the valley floor where most of the trailheads are located.

Our destination on that day was the Palmer Creek Trail, a 4.9 out and back trail that would equal a 9.8 mile hike with a elevation gain of 1700 feet.  I have linked to Judi's post about our day on this trail because she describes it quite nicely and her photography puts mine to shame.  The weather was perfect as we were experiencing what some call Dogwood Winter which made for starting temps below freezing that never warmed up significantly.  But the brilliant sunshine made it perfect conditions for hiking.  It was a wonderful day, a terrific hike with loads of wildflowers, a couple of tricky unbridged creek crossings to get the adrenaline flowing and lots of conversation with friends.  Here are a couple of my favorite pictures from the Palmer Creek Trail.

Thursday, by mutual agreement, was a rest day and we each went our separate ways.  I spent a good part of the day working on blog maintenance and gearing up for my "friend in every state" goal announced this past Monday.  Later in the day, I went out for a nice long walk around the Boyd Mountain property (they have built four miles of hiking trails) and finished off the evening starting a book I brought with me from home.

Our hike on Friday was a bit shorter and the trailhead was only 4.5 miles from my cabin, so we were able to start a tiny bit later.  This hike took us up the Jonathan Valley side of the mountain to the ridge looking down into the Cataloochee Valley.  Our hike was a 1.8 mile segment of the Cataloochee Divide trail which Judi needed to complete as she is working towards hiking all the official trails in the Smokies.  But of course, we had to hike 1.5 miles just to get to the 1.8 mile segment that she needed!  Again, I'll let her tell the story and share her pictures.  But the best part of this day was the lunch spot graciously provided by The Swag, a luxury resort located less than two feet from the park boundary and from the Cataloochee Divide trail on which we were hiking. The Swag's owners, who once lived in my hometown, are hiker friendly and encourage hikers to use the resting place we chose for our lunch spot.  Weather was as perfect as weather can be and with a shorter distance hike, we allowed ourselves the luxury of over an hour at this spot.  I mean really, look at this...................

Gene had even brought his hiker stove and was serving up coffee and hot tea!   What's not to like??

Saturday was another rest day.   I spent the morning resting, reading and enjoying the quiet around the cabins.   In the afternoon, I took off to check out an area walking trail about which I'd read in a brochure.  Lake Junaluska is a nearby conference and retreat center affiliated with the The United Methodist Church.  It is in an incredibly gorgeous setting surrounding a lake ringed by the distant mountains.   I read that a 2.6 mile paved walking trail circled the lake and I just had to check it out.  What I found was indeed, a lovely path that made for a leisurely stroll around the lake.  It was just the amount of exercise I needed in preparation for yet another long hike on Sunday.  Take a look.........

Ended the day by meeting Gene and Judi for ice cream at the Maggie Valley Ice Cream shop.  We each indulged in some yummy ice cream and I don't know how theirs tasted (there was much eating and little talking), but my Butter Pecan (sugar-free, of course!) was delicious.  Ah, the rewards of hiking - coffee served at 5,000 feet and ice cream eaten in the valley!

Sunday was another day of leaving at dark-thirty.  Our trailhead was once again down in the depths of the valley and even further than the one on Wednesday.  But we arrived at the Big Fork Ridge trailhead and were off by 8:30. This hike was a loop hike covering Big Fork Ridge Trail, a portion of Caldwell Fork Trail and Rough Fork Trail.  Our total mileage was 9.2.  The weather, although warmer than previous days, began cool but a rapid warmup began quickly and I'll have to say, that by the time we reached our lunch spot, HOT became the operative word for me.  We still had quite a bit of climbing to do after lunch and I was quite happy to see the high point of our hike when we reached a particular trail junction.  From that point forward, it was ALL downhill!  Enjoy a couple of pictures from this hike.

We'd been warned that some of the foot bridges on Caldwell Fork Trail were damaged or missing from heavy rains last fall and through the winter.  This bridge was intact, but was missing its handrail.  YIKES!   I don't like these bridges when they are sturdy and stable - they mess with my depth perception.  This was a challenge, but fortunately not far off the ground and the log itself was wide and stable.  Piece of cake!  Cough!  Cough!

 This is one BIGGGGGG poplar tree! Hard to see my hiking poles, but they are fully extended.  

At the completion of today's hike, we all agreed that more than one rest day was in order.  I was headed home early Monday morning.  Gene and Judi had decided to extend their stay in Maggie Valley for a few more days.  We said good-bye, but plan to do more hiking while they are in the area. Once more time, I'll link to Judi's post about our Sunday hike. BTW, Judi is an avid blog reader.  Since I've linked so liberally to her reports, please let her know if you enjoy them.  I want to make sure she gets the credit for her wonderful pictures and hike reports.

If you are a new or regular reader and haven't left me a comment helping me reach my goal of having a friend in every state, please do.  Read about my goal from the tab at the top of the blog or THIS POST.

On the horizon...............exciting stuff!   More friends coming to town for some good old Tennessee adventures and right around the corner (Yikes!) is 2012 Summer Trip.  Can't believe it's only 2 1/2 weeks away.  Where are we headed?  Stay tuned!

What are you doing this week?


  1. You'd have lost me with the first 15-mile drive. Land Between the Lakes ruined me forever for driving winding gravel roads. :)

    Looks like a lovely trip!

  2. That's so pretty! What an adventure! Although, given the historical information you gave about the families... That part bothers me too. (And oddly, reminded me of the Hunger Games. Not sure why.) Anyway, makes me want to go on an adventure!

  3. Sounds and looks fabulous! Almost makes me want to be an outdoors-woman:)

  4. What a fun trip!!! And gorgeous hikes! We were up at the swag several weeks back on a hike, and it was amazing! I'm thankful they let us hikers enjoy their view for free ;)

    Thanks Judi for sharing your experience too!! I love the elk pictures!...never encountered one on the trail though, just from the road.

    If I still lived in Mississippi I'd be able to fill that slot, but I moved here to East TN to enjoy the mountains too ;) Ha! Have a great week Sharon! Not much going on here except some bike riding today, and hiking to White Oak Sinks two different ways this weekend. Saturday the 12 mile route, and Sunday leading a group on a 4 mile route!

  5. I love it Sharon! I felt like I was right there with you on the trails. :)

    We recently had to cross a creek on a log that was up about 4 feet over the water - I was scared to death! I couldn't write about it on my blog as my mom reads it and she would be so worried if she only knew what we do when we hike!

    Love your adventures - thanks for sharing. This week I am working on wedding plans!

  6. Your pictures are beautiful and oh, what I wouldn't give to be at that cabin this week...of all weeks. As you know, it's been a challenging one.

    As for next week, I'd love to get together. Just let me know what day works for you and we'll go from there. Can't wait!

  7. All of the hikes look awesome, Sharon. And you look fabulous!!!!! I know you are feeling good --and you need to congratulate yourself for those LONG hikes. George and I hike ---but with his bad back and my bad knees, we never take very long hikes these days.... We took a 9 miler several years ago--but 4-5 (or less) is maximum for us now...

    There's a 7 mile hike in Cataloochie called the Boogerman Trail.. A friend of mine did it a few years ago... Said that you start near the Palmer Chapel I think. She also mentioned running into part of the Caldwell Fork Trail. Boogerman was the name that Mr. Robert Palmer was called... Interesting story.

    Sounds like you had a very good time with friends---and really enjoyed yourself. I love Junaluska... As a Methodist, I went there many times to conferences all through the years...

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Love the Smokies. So grateful for the time I spent there when I lived in Tennessee. This week has been mostly work and more work, but on Saturday I will join with friends to celebrate our friend Vivian's 90th birthday. So looking forward to the party.

  9. We really had a great week and are looking forward to many more hikes with you. Maybe we can even get Mr B out with us.

  10. Wow that looks like such an amazing trip! I am jealous and very happy for you at the same time! I would absolutely love to hike in the Smokies!

  11. We need to make a trip over to that side of the state and visit those mountains! Wow - what amazing vistas and experiences you have. thanks for sharing!

  12. Your hiking trips are always so beautiful, and I love how you're aware of more that just the surroundings... but also how it came to be that you have the opportunity to be there. I think about those things too, and it gives each experience so much more meaning.

    And let me take this opportunity to tell you just how brave and courageous you are for going hiking on these wilderness trails. I've been hiking in potential bear country once, and I could only enjoy it momentarily because I was aware that a bear or mountain lion or whatever else could be around the next bend. While I'd love to see one in his/her own habitat like that, I also know the danger to me by a startled wild animal. You are very brave... very brave. How do you balance the necessary fear and respect for the wildness of the animals with your own desire to hike?

  13. What??? You haven't posted a report of our hike yet? LOL. this mammoth hiking adventure makes the hike today look like small potatoes, but I still loved it! Thanks for being such a good guide!

  14. Gawgeous!!! Just stunning! I think we might try a bit of hiking this year, if I can get my fanny off the bike :D