Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ain't No Mountain High Enough!

Mile High Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway - North Carolina
July 16, 2012

Yes, it is true!  I have concluded that there "ain't no mountain high enough" to escape this heat and humidity.  I've always considered myself quite lucky to live at the foot of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park where our climate is very temperate with few extreme weather conditions, yet within an hour, I can be at 5,000 feet and at least a 20 degree variance in temperature.  But as we all are experiencing, this year is different.  Mt. LeConte, the highest peak in the Smokies has broken ALL TIME record highs and so have all the other weather reporting stations in the park.  

I tried waiting out the heatwave, but oh how I've missed my mountains.  My hiking boots were crying from neglect and my backpack simply sagged against the closet door where it rests between hikes.   So when a friend and I decided to hike this past Monday, the first thing we said to each other was, "how high can we go?"  Ultimately, we chose a rather non-descript trail out of the Balsam Mountain area of the park.  

My hiking bud is seriously working on completing all of the "official" trails in the park and I'm playing with the same goal.  This seven-mile trek on the Rough Fork Trail would be new trail for both of us.  Technically, the trail is considered easy and is basically flat for the first 2 1/2 miles with a fairly steep final mile until the trail intersects with the Caldwell Fork trail.  I had passed this intersection back in April with my hiking friends, Gene and Judi, and on that day wondered when in the world I'd ever have an opportunity to come back and hike that obscure piece of trail to complete the mileage.  The trail begins at 5100' and ends at 4100'.   I won't go so far as to say it was cool because it wasn't, but compared to the temps when we arrived back home late that afternoon, it was nice.  The humidity, however, was brutal!

It was my friend's turn to drive which gave me the added luxury of being able to fully absorb all my surroundings on the two-hour trip through the dreaded Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg nightmare, up and over Newfound Gap, onto the Blue Ridge Parkway at its beginning, then out Balsam Mountain road to the trailhead.   The forest, which I had last seen in late April, was thick, dark and dense which isn't my favorite way to see it, but the summer wildflowers are in full bloom and they are beautiful!   Damage from the killer storm which blew through the mountains on July 5 was evident all along the way although we were never in any of the areas that sustained the greatest damage. (Many of my favorite trails about which I've written and posted pictures remain closed with no reopening dates yet.  We are told that "thousands" of trees fell during that storm.) 

We arrived at the Rough Fork trailhead and after getting the traditional trailhead pictures out of the way, eagerly set out to just hike!!  With no connections to other trails except at the junction 3.5 miles away, this trail is considered lightly used and in the midst of summer, we were concerned as to how overgrown it would be.  In some places, it was VERY overgrown, but for the most part, the trail was wide with a nice hiking surface.  This trail doesn't have any outstanding features.  In other words, you aren't hiking for a payoff at the end.   There is no waterfall, no epic views, no former homesite, no Starbucks (gotcha!!) and no fields of gorgeous wildflowers. But for a hiker who just loves to be in the mountains and walk, there was plenty to see if you just looked for it.  (Kind of like life in general, isn't it??)

Those of us who hike in the Smokies use the "brown" book, Hiking Trails of the Smokies,  as our official guidebook.   It told us that the Rough Fork trail follows an old railroad grade and to watch for old railroad ties and spikes as you walked along the surface.  Wish I could claim credit for spotting the first one, but I can't.  Nonetheless, that was a really cool moment.  Once we spotted the first one, we were able to pinpoint several in a row giving clear evidence as to exactly where the railroad had been.

Spike and railroad tie on Rough Fork Trail - July 16, 2012

But far and away, the highlight of our hike came at the junction with the Caldwell Fork Trail.   We were enjoying a snack when I heard my friend breathe a quiet, "oh my," (sorry Judi, it wasn't a bear) and when I looked up, there, in the middle of the trail about 20 feet away, stood a beautiful female elk gazing at us as if to say, "it's my trail, why are you sitting in the middle of it?"

 Female Elk on Rough Fork Trail - July 16 2012
(click to enlarge pictures)

She got tired of waiting for us to move off "her" trail, slowly turned around and with a last look back at us, meandered back down the trail.  It was a really cool thing to see!  They are so graceful!

We had decided to have a quick snack/water break at the trail junction and then retrace our steps back up the steep mile-long incline before having lunch.  By that time, it was very warm and we knew thunderstorms were likely in the afternoon, so we ate quickly and enjoyed the easy stroll back to the car.  

I couldn't have asked for a better return to my mountains.  They welcomed me with open arms and I could almost feel them mocking me saying, "you can run off and visit all those other mountains, but you'll always come back.  This is home!"

Enjoy a couple of pictures from the hike................

The red flower is Bee-Balm, a mid-summer wildflower.  It would normally be at peak right now, but like everything else, it seems to have bloomed early.  These were waning.

I loved all your feedback from my last post's link to the 12 Worst Grocery Stores in the US.   I also strongly agree with Karen@Waisting Time  who made the very valid point that quality could vary widely among stores in the same chain.  However, one thing seems universally true among those of us particularly in the south.   Food Lion was/is a HORRIBLE grocery store.  There is only one remaining in my area and it would be a last resort for me. I "googled" Food Lion and learned that as of January 12, 2012, there were still 1,127 Food Lion stores operating in the US.  I find that hard to believe!   I also agree with most of you that Walmart is a terrific and economical choice for anything EXCEPT meat and fresh produce.  I've learned this lesson the hard way more than once!!  

But I will have to say that we shopped at two of the stores that made this list while on our trip this summer and had excellent experiences in both.  While in Woodstock, Vermont, our closest supermarket was a Shaw's in nearby New Hampshire and we picked up a few things at a Stop 'n Shop while in Boston.  Both of these stores in their particular locations were brand new, large, beautiful, well-stocked and very customer friendly.  We had no complaints and I was visibly surprised to see them on that list.  I do agree that such lists can be damaging however, would also concede that there  has to be some validity to the criteria evaluated or the 24,000 people who were surveyed wouldn't have come up with these results.

Next post, I've got another list I found on the internet that I'm anxious for your opinion.  Nothing like a good controversy to keep things interesting.  

Where Do You Grocery Shop?
(I'm a Kroger girl with a biweekly trip to Sam's Club thrown in) 


  1. I really need to start hiking again! Maybe today...

  2. My closest store is a HyVee. I thing those are regional. I also sometimes shop at Hen House and think that chain might be local. We buy many staples at Costco. I also shop for groceries at my local Target a lot; it is right near the gym where I do yoga.

  3. There's just nothing to compare with those wonderful Smoky Mountains! Daughter and I got to see elk last winter in Cataloochee.

  4. I shop at Harris Teeter mostly. I prefer Publix for produce.

    When I finally get more control over my days, I'll probably shop both stores more reguarly.

  5. We actually have talked about going to the Balsam Mtn. area.. We want to take that one-way road back down the mountain (which comes out at the visitor center north of Cherokee).. We haven't done that. Isn't there a waterfall up there somewhere? I think there is...

    Right now we are working on my birthday trip to Arkansas... They have had more drought than we have had believe it or not. SO--not sure how many waterfalls we will find there this time... AND--our big trip this year will be to Yellowstone and the Tetons in Sept. Can't wait!!!

    I'm a Walmart shopper (except for produce and meats)... I like Kroger's --but only for their store brands, coupons and specials... We love the Kroger brand OJ and the Kroger brand 2% shredded cheese.... For meats, we buy everything at Sam's.... GREAT meats there!

    Have a good day.

  6. Stop & Shop (which is on the list) is the main store in my area. Places like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are a good hour or more away. That said, we do have a fantastic food co-op that is growing and I do a good percentage of my food shopping there.

  7. I met you today!!! Thanks for giving me some of your time. I really enjoyed talking with you :)

    Looks like you guys had a great hike. The railroad ties were neat to see since they pulled the majority of them up when making them trails.

    I shop all over... mostly Walmart, Kroger, and Food City. Sometimes I'll shop at Earthfare or Three Rivers Market, and during the summer, you can't beat the farmers' markets.

  8. Oh Sharon, your post is making me want to hike! It's been a while...

    How wonderful that you and your friend saw an elk! I've seen the elks at the park in Cataloochee, but it would be so much more exciting, I think, to have a more "natural" encounter in the woods.

    We don't have much choice for groceries nearby, so it's mostly Ingles (a local chain) and occasionally Walmart for me.

  9. Most of those grocery stores were unknowns to me. I shop Walmart for staples and toiletries and paper products. They can be as much as a dollar lower on one item which adds up very quickly. I prefer Sprouts for produce and will get meat from Fry's (same as Kroger) or Safeway.

    We have spent a lot of time in the Smokies. We lived in Knoxville when we got married and it was just a hop, skip and jump from there. We have camped there many times but not for a few years. I had no idea there were elk there. We've had our problems with bears while camping though.

  10. My favorite and most regular store is CostLess. Not sure if its a chain. But it definitely costs less. And they have great produce and good meat. I also get just a few things at Walmart, and then only once in a while get to Costco and Trader Joe's. And I like my little farmer's market stand.

    LOVED your hike photos, especially the elk.

  11. Loved your hike photos! How wonderful that you got to see an elk!

    I'm mainly a Kroger shopper, but I occasionally pick up things at other places, including Whole Foods, Target, Aldi's (Fage, mainly), and a few local markets.

  12. Thanks for sharing your hike. How neat seeing that elk!! It's my dream to hike all the trails in the Smokies. Pretty hard to do when you live 8 hrs away:(

  13. Yes, isn't it grand to be back on the trail? Very cool elk sighting. I'd love to see one of those animals in the wild.

  14. I have been on that trail!! AND we spotted a railroad spike, too (well, I take credit for that one, cause I'm always looking down at the ground, watching for snakes and tree roots and such). Great find!
    In fact, there WAS a snake on our trail. A big one, black and brown with a tipped nose. I have no idea what kind it was but it was NOT digging the fact that we were observing it!
    You always find such cool things to write about, Sharon!