Monday, July 18, 2011

A Summer day Hike!

It’s been awhile since we have been hiking because the weather has been unbearably hot this summer. The last time we went hiking was to the Walls of Jericho in Hytop in early May. That was the first really warm day of the summer and we ran out of water on the way back up the mountain, and Joe just about died of heat exhaustion! While we were at the Jericho trailhead we noticed a somewhat new trail called the Bear Den Point trail, and decided it was worth a try someday.
It’s now mid July and we finally have a Saturday with a weather prediction under 90 degrees and fairly dry air! We had to take advantage of this and get out and do some hiking. We decided to try out the Bear Den trail and see if it’s worth a second visit in the future.
A description Joe found on the internet described the trail as a 4.7 mile easy, pleasant hike through the woods. We started off and immediately noticed that there were several areas of growth over the trail. We thought to ourselves, does anybody use this trail? We shrugged it off and proceeded, thinking, at least it’s not poison ivy! We were pleased to see a variety of pretty wildflowers, different colored mushrooms and even a cute little bitty froggy! The trail was pleasant for the first mile, until the trail left the plateau top and headed down into the deep woods. We quickly got used to eating spiderwebs and tiptoeing through poison ivy patches.
As we got deeper and deeper into the forest, the foliage got thicker and thicker…not good for Joe, who has a phobia of large plants since childhood, just ask some of his old scout buddies who used to get a kick out of chasing him around with a plant!
Our hiking sticks became our plant whackers, and half of our hike we had to bushwhack through stinging nettle and what Joe called “nightmare plants” that were thick and usually taller than we were. This trail was anti-maintained and apparently very seldom used. When we weren’t whacking our way through the thickets, we were tiptoeing through poison ivy and stinging nettles. Poor Amber found out the hard way why stinging nettles are called stinging nettles. Luckily we had a little first aid kit with some moist wipes that made the stinging go away. 4.7 miles later we finally arrived back at our car. Joe now remembers the other reason he doesn’t like to go hiking in the summer in Alabama, besides the extreme heat.
Our hike was over but our nightmare was just beginning. On the road Amber starting looking at her legs and saw little bitty specs moving around. She picked one up and asked me, is this a tick?? It was literally the size of pinhead. The more she looked the more she found, as she was screaming the whole time. We pulled over into the parking lot of a closed down gas station in Skyline to de-tick ourselves. It took us over an hour checking each other for ticks, and easily found 100 of them all over our legs and feet! We had no idea ticks could be so small. Most of them looked like little bitty specs of dirt and they were attached to our skin. There were so many of them and they were microscopic!! Aaaaaagh!!!
Our socks went in the garbage can, and the rest of our clothes and gear we soaked in the tub to drown any ticks that were hiding. Once home, we thouroughly checked each other over and kept finding them. We didn’t get to bed until around 2 am, and dreamed about ticks and nightmare weeds! We will definitely not go back to that area ever again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Back to Stone Door!

Since hiking at the Smokies we’ve wanted to get back to the Stone Door area and hike some more of the challenging trails which we weren’t quite ready for, last time we were there. Record highs over the past few weekends have kept us from doing any hiking. Finally last weekend, a Saturday rolled around with a forecast high under 95, so we headed out.
This time we were going to tackle the Big Creek Gulf Trail with a side trip to Ranger Creek Falls at the bottom of the canyon. This trail is one of the most challenging trails in the park, and Joe remembers it vividly from his 70 mile hike as a Boy Scout. This was when Joe learned from personal experience about the importance of having water when hiking. When he hiked this trail at age 12 he was totally unprepared, and had to rely on his scoutmaster’s water to keep him alive. We felt that since we hiked to Chimney Tops in the Smoky Mountains a few weeks ago, we were physically ready to hike this trail, as challenging as it was.
Going hiking seems to be a growing addiction. The more we hike, the more we want to hike. When we first got married, Amber wasn’t really into hiking. She would go with Joe every now and then but she didn’t really enjoy it. But now after working up to hiking we both look forward to the next hiking trip and discovering what natural wonders we may encounter next. Saturday morning, Joe had a hard time sleeping in since he was so excited to go hiking again on this trail. He woke Amber up as gently as he could by kissing her all over her cute, little sleepy head.
We started today’s hike on the same trail that we started hiking the last time we were here, the Laurel Trail. This trail was simply a way of getting to our destination trail, and we thought of it no more then just that, a long but easy 3 mile hike through the woods. We didn’t realize this trail would set the tone for the adventures we would encounter throughout the rest of the day, encounters with nature. We heard and saw hawks and different types of birds flying through the trees but our most memorable experiences today would be with the little bitty creatures. This trail was full of little froggies, different kinds of crickets we had never seen before, and beautiful butterflies. One even found a nice place in the sunlight right in front of us and posed just long enough for us to get a good picture of him before flying away.
Three miles and two hours later we finally arrived at the Big Creek Gulf Trail. From here the trail got interesting, as Joe likes to call it whenever a trail gets dynamic. The trail steeply descended into the canyon on an old logging road, a very rocky old logging road. Joe remembers hiking up this, what seemed like an eternity of climbing when he was a scout. Throughout the day we were on and off this old logging road as the trail traversed the passable sections of road, but veering off on a rocky and twisty, and sometimes steep bypass around sections of the old road that had been washed away, the whole while we were following alongside Big Creek. This is an interesting area.
When we first got to the bottom of the canyon there was water flowing in the creek. But after a half hour of hiking, the creek turns silent because the water disappears into a cave and reappears a few miles later downstream. Also since this area is so lush with vegetation, it didn’t really feel like we were hiking at the bottom of the canyon. All we could see were trees, cliffs, and an occasionally a dry riverbed. As we hiked deeper into the canyon we saw many more cute little froggies and even came across a baby cicada, still in his shell. He seemed to be having trouble moving. We wondered how much longer until he would break out of his shell and fly away, but didn’t have time to stand around and watch and wait.
It felt like it was dark because of the dense canopy of trees above us. Most of the trail seemed really dark, especially when the trail took a bend and put us in the shadow of a canyon wall. A lot of the time we were rock-hopping and avoiding close-encounters with evil poison ivy, which was everywhere down here.
After a couple hours of hiking, we arrived at the junction of the Ranger Falls trail. This trail was a little harder to follow, as it crossed the dry, rocky bed of Big Creek. We got off the trail a few times because we lost sight of the markings on the trees that indicate where the trail is. Amber saw a little snake on the rocks, and gave a little yelp! It was a cute little bitty snake with an orange ring around his neck. We wanted to catch him but he was too fast, and slithered down into the rocks and hid. We had to backtrack to find the trail, but finally got back on course. Ranger Falls was a half-mile away from the main trail, along side a day tributary stream bed leading to the waterfall. Joe couldn’t help, but wonder what would happen if a soaker of a storm suddenly came over and turned these peacefully dry creek beds into raging rapids. We would probably be stranded for a while.
Closer to the waterfall, we could hear the sound of rushing water. Since it had been a dry summer, we were wondering if there would be any water falling. We arrived at the falls, put our packs down, and Amber was the first to go behind the waterfall. Ranger Falls is an interesting waterfall; it doesn’t have a plunge pool like most falls do. All the water drains down into a cave at the base of the cliff, which explains why the stream leading to the waterfall was dry. It’s probably the same cave that Big Creek occupies. Looking at the waterfall and the surrounding area, it looks like the waterfall was created by a giant sinkhole. It makes for a good place to take a natural shower in the summer. The water felt good after hiking for hours in the hot summer.
We headed off, since the sun was starting to set. From the junction of Ranger Falls, the Big Creek Gulf trail followed the creek bed for another couple miles before junctioning with the Connector trail, then a mile climb straight up to Stone Door. We had a nice little scare on our way up… There was a branch across the trail, and Joe started kicking it to try to get it out of the way, then he noticed in his peripheral vision, less than a foot away from his left foot, something long and black was moving. He looked over at it, saw that it was a big black snake, and let out a high-pitched girlish scream! The snake was care-free until he heard that scream. He curled up into a ball and watched us closely. We slowly walked by him, and he watched us closely. Phew! He wasn’t poisonous, but we didn’t want to get bit anyway.
We arrived at the junction of the Connector trail, and started climbing, and climbing, and climbing. The sign said it was only for a mile, but it sure didn’t feel like a mile. We just kept going up and up and up, steeper and steeper. We just kept at it, slow and steadily. Whenever we started feeling tired or sick, it was time to drink water. The water really is the source of life.
Finally, after climbing what seemed like forever, we got to the wooden staircase that took us up to the base of Stone Door. We rested…tired and exhausted! From here, it was the grand staircase through the stone door, then a mile of easy walking to the ranger station where our car was waiting for us. We ended up hiking for 9 miles again. This was definitely the most challenging and physically intensive trail we have hiked so far. At least until we go to Utah next month…
On the way home we stopped by A&W and got some root beer floats, since Joe had been craving root beer since Ranger Falls!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Barenaked Ladies and Smoky Mountain Climbing

It all started with the band. We have been wanting to see Barenaked Ladies for a long time, but we usually just miss them.
Either we’re out of town when they come somewhere close, or we just miss them by a few days when we happen to travel to one of their tour stops. This time it was Joe’s work and the fact that he was in ratings that made us miss their concert in Nashville recently. So we did the next best thing, we went to see them in Knoxville, TN and decided to make a mini vacation out of it and do some hiking in the Smokies.
Joe was able to take that Friday off so we could leave early and have plenty of time to get there, find our hotel in Pigeon Forge and get back Knoxville and find the Tennessee Theater.Apparently, there was some other concert in the park going on down the street with a
performance by Blues Traveler, so traffic was a lot busier then we
thought it would be. We soon discovered that we would have to park a ways and walk. We found a place about a mile away and had to hustle to make it to the theater on time.
It was a cool place, a 1930’s era theater complete with a marquee in lights. If it weren’t for the marquee we would never have known this was a theater. It was just a big, old-fashioned, multi-story brick building with a lot of windows, something that belonged in 1930’s cityscape.After we got through the front door, it was a completely different building with a spacious front door, it was a completely different building with a lobby and two grand
staircases, one on each side.
The auditorium was a step back in time as well; it looked like this place had been restored to its original splendor.
The concert was awesome. It was great to see one of the greatest bands of our generation perform live. But of course, as with any band with twenty years of greatest hits, there were songs we wished they would’ve played but just didn’t have the time to.The next morning we had to be somewhere we weren’t looking forward to, a meeting that loomed over the first half of our trip.
Joe had gotten some pretty good deals on a hotel but managed to get wrapped into a time share pitch. On the phone they told us we could
choose any time we wanted, to get the presentation out of the way, but
when we registered into our hotel room we heard a very different story. We had to attend a 1:00 pm sales pitch that would last about 2
hours… so much for our plans for hiking in the Smokies. The morning of the meeting we called the actual place we were going and asked if we could squeeze into the morning presentation and luckily we could. Well, lesson learned. We will never do this again. It was a very lengthy, hard sale, one on one with a sales rep. That lasted over three hours including a tour of the grounds and a dream cabin that we could own 1/25th of for a nice little second mortgage. But we would get super low rates if
purchased today. We had to say no to three different salesmen, each pushing harder then the former. They just couldn’t seem to understand the concept of us wanting to live a debt free life.
With the time we had left in the day we grabbed our hiking packs and headed for the mountains. Joe had been researching hiking trails in the Smokies before coming here, and there were a couple of trails he wanted to tackle if there was enough time.
The first of which was the Chimney Tops trail.
This trail looked very interesting and challenging and we had
heard stories confirming its challenging nature. It was only 2 miles in length, but in those 2 miles, the trail climbed over 2,000 feet straight up to the top.
The road twisted and turned has we drove closer to our destination. We forgot how beautiful this area was. As we got closer to the trailhead, we approached an overlook where we could see the top of the jagged peak we were about to climb to. A few yards and a tunnel later we got to the trail.
The first hundred or so yards of the trail was relatively easy and crossed a couple large streams. Some people were down in the stream playing in the water. The sky was overcast, and sounds of distant thunder made us wonder if we should go back to the car and wait for a storm to pass,
but we pressed on, hoping that we might make it back before the storm came through.
After the first hundred yards the trail began to climb. It crossed over another stream and began to climb even more steeply. We
just took our time and went a gentle pace since we knew it would just get harder. As challenging as this trail is known to be, it was surprising to see so many people, mainly families hiking along with us. We climbed and climbed and decided to rest on a log for a little while thinking maybe we were halfway there.
We climbed some more and crossed the creek a couple more times before climbing some more and reaching the half-way point. From here it just got steeper. The trail turned into a stone staircase that relentlessly climbed up for the next mile alongside a humble mountain stream that got smaller as we got higher. Looking up, the summit still seemed so far away, and we knew this trail wouldn’t stop until we got there.
Finally we got past the hardest part, climbed a couple switchbacks, then the trail leveled out as we headed for the chimney top. The vegetation got thinner and the trail got narrower with a steep ledge on the side. There were places where the park provided handrails because the trail was so narrow. We finally got to the chimney top.
This was a formation of treeless slate rock that formed a bald, but jagged peak… this was the end of the family friendly portion of the trail.The trail used to continue around the base of the formation but was closed for rehabilitation. Of course Joe wanted to climb to the very top, but Amber didn’t share the enthusiasm, especially after a series of dreams she had before, where we
were climbing something similar but fell off. Joe assured her that this wouldn’t happen but none the less she wouldn’t climb it.
Joe started climbing by himself. At first it was easy but it quickly got steeper and harder to find the next step or handhold.
Looking up, the top seemed so far away but he pressed on. The tree line finally topped off and he could see the mountains around him, halfway up the rocky formation.
This was where the formation got steeper and narrower and more exposed, and each step made his leg shake for fear of heights. This was the highest he was going to go today. The view of the surrounding mountains was beautiful. He could look down and see the overlook we stopped at on the way to the trailhead where we could see the top. He snapped a few pictures and we headed down.The hike down was actually harder then we thought it would be. Hiking down that steep for that long puts a lot of stress on leg muscles that we aren’t used to using.
We made it back to the car still dry.
Maybe we’ll come back here in the future and attempt to make it to the peak, after a couple more years of hiking and climbing, when our fear of heights won’t be so bad.Before we headed back to the hotel we decided there was time to hike a short trail, so we went to Laurel Falls. This trail was just a mile and a half long, to a nice waterfall and back that was paved the whole way. We figured this would be a quick and easy trail and a nice way to end our day of hiking. Almost halfway to the waterfall we heard thunder, and then felt a couple drops of rain. Those drops of rain led to more, harder drops of rain until it became a total downpour.
We didn’t have any ponchos or umbrellas with us, we didn’t even have our backpacks with us since this was supposed to be a quick and easy trail. We were too far along to turn back to the car so we pressed on and got completely soaked. At least it was warm outside. By the time we got to the waterfall, the rain had let up enough for us to take pictures. We headed back to the car, rung out our clothes and headed for the hotel where a nice warm shower was waiting for us, then to pizza hut!
We headed home the next day the scenic way but unfortunately not the way we had planned due to the road being closed. We later found out that the road was closed because of a landslide.
We stopped over in Chattanooga for some BBQ, then explored a little bit.
We happened upon a railroad museum that had a running steam locomotive. We definitely had to stop to take pictures.
We eventually got home to look forward to the start of another work week.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hike to Buggytop

Getting ready for our upcoming hiking trip to the Smokies, and eventually our hiking trip to Utah we decided to take a little trip back to Cumberland Plateau. We were originally planning to go back to Stone Door and hike the more challenging Big Creek Gulf trail, but we got a late start so Joe let Amber pick the trail today. We have a nice map book of
Tennessee that has a list of popular hiking trails inside the front cover.
Amber, reading through the list saw a cute little trail called Buggytop, so naturally she picked that one. The map said that this trail was a four mile trip, there and back again. We weren’t quite sure what that meant, if it was two miles there and back or four miles there and back. So we mentally prepared ourselves for an eight mile day.We arrived at Buggytop right on the tail of a soaker of a storm, so the trail was nice,
wet and steamy for us. We hit the trail and noticed that there were a lot of pretty butterflies flying around. We tried to take a picture of one of them, but they wouldn’t stay put. The first mile was along the ridge top and was very sloppy and buggy. We got to a sign/register that showed us the trail map and luckily it was only a 2 mile trail.
Amber found out early on not to touch anything green because it was probably poison ivy. Her leg isn’t itching, which means that either she isn’t allergic to poison ivy or she didn’t brush against it hard enough. We usually go hiking in the winter, and we were reminded today of that reason… Poison ivy and bugs were everywhere.
Mile two was down into a box canyon and at times steep and r
ocky, and it took extra caution not to slip and fall because of the recent rain. We arrived at a bluff overlooking the box
canyon where Buggytop Cave is and we could hear the roaring of water exiting from the cave entrance below. It was time to go down into the box canyon, this was the fun part. The trail
immediately went down a broken up section of the rocky bluff and Amber accidentally found out that she could almost do a complete split, but luckily caught herself before going all the way down to the ground. The trail was definitely getting interesting. With poison ivy everywhere, climbing down the rocky bluff took creative foot and hand work to not touch any of the evil plants.
After the rocky bluff and a narrow ledge, the trail went steeply down a muddy hill with only tree roots and small embedded stones to aide us down without sliding. Amber had her second attempt at defying gravity as her foot slipped and she almost fell completely, but was able to catch
herself just inches from the ground. We arrived at Buggytop Cave and immediately felt the cool, dry air coming out. It was a
nice contrast from the hot steamy forest we had been hiking in.
Buggytop Cave has an enormous entrance with a river flowing out, and then promptly falling down some cascades onto a rocky stream bed. Since it was so humid outside, there was a great fog protruding from the entrance, making for an eerie sight. We snapped a couple pictures and headed back up. The trail going back up the bluff line was actually easier than i
t was coming down, and the poison ivy was much easier to avoid. We almost made it to the car completely unscathed, if it weren’t
for a misstep on a slippery rock by Amber which sent her hurling into a patch of Virginia creeper. Luckily it wasn’t poison ivy.All in all it was a good trail with some moderately difficult portions which Joe thinks made it even more of an interesting hike. As we arrived to the car, our shoes, ankles and legs were nice and muddy. Until the next hike.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vacation Trip to Utah 2009! (a year later and we’re finally getting this posted)

After another grueling beginning of a school year and sweeps ratings periods at the station, its time to head out away on vacation, far away in Utah...four states away from work, from being able to get called in if something crazy happens. Away from the screaming kids and demanding bosses.
We found a great deal through Continental Airlines that made it possible for us to take this trip. But of course the catch is to leave really early in the morning from a city four hours away in Atlanta. Luckily Joe was able to get off early the day before, so we could take our time to get there and stop for a nice bite of BBQ in Chattanooga on the way over. We stayed at Joe's Aunt Hazel, who was also nice enough to get up at 5:00 am to give us a ride to the transit station. Luckily there was a train station close to her house that took us straight to the airport. We had timed it perfectly so we would make our flight without having to rush, but we found out at the last minute that we had to check our bag and pay a hefty twenty dollars to do so. We ended up having to run to our terminal to catch our flight. That was awful!
Our trip there was uneventful. Amber's mom and sister met us in the airport, and it was cold there compared to Atlanta. We spent the day in Salt Lake, mainly at This is the Place park pioneer village. We learned many things including how a spindle works, how the pioneers made yummy apple cider, and how a family of ten people can live in a one room cabin. It's amazing how spoiled we have become. Joe was able to go the General Conference Priesthood session that night, which was a good experience for him since he had never been to General Conference at the Conference Center before. We ended up getting home late that night, where Brianna (Amber's sweet little cousin) had fallen asleep waiting for us to get there.
For the majority of the week Joe had big plans to explore the wondrous state of Utah. Of course we should all know by now that Joe likes to think drives his boss crazy sometimes. We only had a week but Joe has a nice map of Utah that he just can't put down. The more he studied the map, the more places we wanted to go. In between our explorations of the state, we spent time with family, and even included family with us as we explored. It's so hard on trips like these to see everybody and spend enough time with everybody so that they feel like they've had their fair share of time with Amber and Joe, since we only get out to Utah once a year.
We wanted to go and see Amber's friend Melissa down in Cedar City, so that gave Joe a chance to plan a nice little scenic drive to Cedar City and catch a plethora of natural Utah gems. We were able to talk Amber's sister into coming with us and letting us use her car. It was a fun drive. It is amazing how vast the state of Utah is. The terrain just changes so much as you travel through the state. There are the brown and tan rugged mountains of central east Utah and the coal mining towns. Then south of I-70 the landscape dramatically changes to more of a rolling hills prairie. A couple hours later it turns into a Colorado style pine and spruce forest as you go over Boulder Mountain with views of different style mountains in the distance. A couple hours later, another dramatic change as the pine and spruce forests give way to a desert of stone as we come into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area. The drive through this was by far the most interesting of the day as the road wound around through stone canyons, straddled the tops of narrow ledges, and hugged the sides of stone walls with a sheer cliff as the shoulder of the road. You don't want to make any driving mistakes there. One wrong turn and its good-bye. Luckily there was a nice concrete barrier to serve as a guardrail on those parts of the road. We hit Bryce Canyon National Park before heading over to Cedar City.
After Bryce, we thought we were taking a shorter way but ended up winding around through a volcanic forest and past Cedar Breaks national monument. Wow, there sure are a lot of national monuments in Utah. Needless to say, we got to Cedar City a couple hours late. But with the scenery so spectacular, it didn't feel like we had been driving ten hours. It didn't feel near as long as the four hour drive back home on I-15 in the middle of the night. The rest of the week was spent with different family members driving around closer to Helper.
While Joe was looking through that map, he discovered a really interesting looking area called the San Rafael Swell. We had planned a day for Amber’s dad and grandma to take us through the swell in her dad’s 4x4 truck. We drove to the northern most overlook over the swell called the wedge overlook, nicknamed “little grand canyon”. It was pretty impressive. Most people don’t even know this place exists. We attempted to drive into the swell but got stopped by flat tire. While Amber’s dad, with a little help from Joe, troubleshooted the tire situation, we took some of the time to take some interesting pictures of each other…Joe even talked Amber into laying down on a rock for a cute picture. With the spare tire as a primary tire, we had gone as far as we could go today into the swell. We found out at the service station in Price what the culprit of the flat tire was, a wedge-shaped rock, a perfect triangle that just happened to be in the perfect position for us to run over it.
We managed to get back over to the swell the next day, but this time with Amber’s brother in his VW Jetta with super thin tires. The 25 mile trek through the northern portion of the swell on the gravel desert road was scenic, but at the speed we had to restrict our driving to in that vehicle made the trip seem extra long and bumpy. We’ll definitely have to come back here again in the future with a four wheel drive vehicle.
Lately Joe has had quite the fascination with ghost towns and Utah has plenty of them especially east Utah with the mountains being as rich in coal as they are. Joe has started collecting pictures of these ghost towns and took this trip as an extra opportunity to expand his ghost town portfolio. Amber’s mom was able to drive us around for a day to explore several of the ghost towns near Helper, Price and Scofield. We explored up the consumers area starting with the former town of Coal City. Since this is on private land, there are actually a few ruins to prove that there was once a town there. Many of the old mining camps on public property usually fall victim to environmental “reclaiming” acts which demolish coal camp ruins and basically erase all signs of history.
After exploring Coal City and taking lots of pictures we went to National just up the street and saw a couple of ruins which were unfortunately hard to get to because of the thick growth of sage brush. Joe and Amber’s mom braved the brush to explore the ruins and came back with a couple of scratches and sticky seeds all over them. Amber was glad that she didn’t follow them to the ruins. We couldn’t find any ruins of Sweet or Consumers, although there is a modern operating coal mine where the ancient coal mine used to be.
From here on out we were adventuring, following the dirt roads over the mountains to wherever they took us. It was a little nerve racking at times since the road was so narrow with a steep cliff at the shoulder at times. The most interesting part of the road took us down a steep set of switchbacks down to the other side of the mountain. We explored Clear Creek which is actually still somewhat habited. It was interesting to see how some of the newer houses where built onto the foundations of houses from the early 1900’s. We hit Scofield, took a few pictures and headed home to Helper.
Amber's birthday was Saturday so we all got together on Friday and had a family cook-out at Amber's grandparent’s house. As usual, the week flew by way to fast and vacation was over before we knew it. We stopped by a couple ghosts town on the way out of Helper and also managed to go and see Bridal Veil Falls before stopping at Amber’s cousin’s house in Salt Lake where we were staying the night since we had to be at the airport so early the next morning.
We flew back to Atlanta Sunday, and had the four hour drive home to look forward to. It was nice to be home again.
To see more pictures from our trip, visit our facebook pages at!/album.php?aid=335920&id=579500130&ref=pb