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How to Fix the Great Smoky Mountains (Day 94)

October 21st, 2009 No comments

There are two main problems with the Great Smoky Mountains:

  1. They’re crowded.
  2. There are too many people there.

Unless you’ve been slavishly watching Ken Burns documentaries or just really know your national parks, there’s some likelihood (that’s safe) that you may not know that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the system. Frex (this was on a rainy weekday in October):

great-smoky_congestionOTOH: fall color!

So here’s what I propose to fix the problem:

  1. Charge an entrance fee.
  2. Wipe Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge off the face of the earth — or just relocate them to some other part of Tennessee.

Most other parks charge an entrance fee. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me that every park out west charges $10-20 for a week’s admission, but *the* *most* *popular* park of all has no fee at all and also just happens to be overcrowded. I think the parks should be self-funding and to certain extent other parks in the system are. I’m not sure why the rest of the country needs to subsidize the South’s park-going (the vast, vast majority of Great Smokies park-goers are southern; those who weren’t were generally from Ohio or Illinois, which basically seem like southern states to me).

As for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the two towns closest to the park on the Tennessee side — man. Here’s Gatlinburg in mid-October:

escape-from-gatlinburgSuch compelling strip low- to mid-range hotels!

These towns are some sort of strange haven for the blue-collar white middle-class. I know this sounds snobbish, but — these places are horrible. Overrun with people and their cars, the only thing the towns offer are a(n admittedly curiously) vast variety of miniature golf places and pancake houses. As a result, Sunday afternoon traffic was frequently immobilized from the park exit all the way to the freeway (at which point it moved just fine). We abandoned our hopes of visiting Cade’s Cove as a result.

Eh. I guess another solution would be to just never try and visit the park from the Tennessee side, but what fun’s that? This country demands drastic, memorable solutions, so: push the button, glass Gatlinburg.

Dropped my bro off at the airport in Knoxville. Stopped *very* briefly in downtown on my way out to take this ill-lit photo:

knoxville_sun-sphereSweet vestiges of 1982!

Contrary to popular belief, however:

  1. I found no sign in Knoxville welcoming me to the “Wod Fir”.
  2. I found no evidence that the Sun Sphere is, in fact, filled with wigs.

I understand that there are the “second Sun Sphere” conspiracy theorists out there, but whatever.

It’s not exactly the Space Needle, either, you know? I mean, the thing’s all of five stories tall. And you also don’t have to drive over sidewalks to illegally park at the Space Needle — I found it mandatory in Knoxville after their direction-giving “Parking” signs led me to a no-parking loading dock with walls on three sides. For as polite as southerners are, you’d think they’d figure out how to make useful, accurate, plentiful road signs. OTOH, maybe if you don’t already know, they don’t want you to find out.

bkd

Categories: south Tags: , , ,

Rush Hour: Alum Cave Bluffs to Mt. LeConte (Day 92)

October 19th, 2009 7 comments

Read the scene where gravity is pulling me around.

I miss being young enough to think R.E.M. is/was cool.

Went on this hike:

alum-cave_creekAlum Cave Creek

alum-cave_arch-rockArch Rock, or: I’ve now seen a shot for which it would’ve been nice to have a tripod available.

alum-cave_cave-viewThe view from under the overhang of Alum Cave.

alum-cave_trail-cableThe trail!

alum-cave_lodge_stepsThe stairway leading out of the peak-side lodge.

alum-cave_me-at-peakThe actual peak — it’s not the highest in Tennessee.

alum-cave_cliffsThe Cliff Tops.

alum-cave_me-on-cliffsIbid, but with me in the photo.

alum-cave_lodgeA mountain-top hillbilly village!

alum-cave_trail-treesTree tunnel.

alum-cave_trail-cliff-telkTelkontar goes into the light.

alum-cave_trail-falls-cableRain-fed, trail-crossing cascade.

alum-cave_colorYes, they have fall color in Tennessee as well.

alum-cave_cliff-in-mistThey’re called the “Smoky Mountains” because there are clouds there.

alum-cave_log-bridgeA log bridge!

alum-cave_tree-tunnel-creekCreek with trees.

alum-cave_creek-downstreamSame stream, some fallen leaves, trees, and more great smoke.

Ten or 11 miles, out-and-back, 2,800 feet in elevation gain. Went to the lodge, then continued to the peak, then swung by the Cliff Tops before heading down. We saw Jimmy Carter hiking down when we were on the way up. No joke. Didn’t take any photos of him, of course — I mean, it was just Jimmy Carter, not Calvin Coolidge or anything. Most crowded hike I’ve been on the whole trip (excluding the last two miles on the way down from Half Dome). Either the Smoky Mountains visitors are a hardy bunch or there are just *that* *many* of them. (Truly, the park is choked with visitors, bad weather or no.)

With good weather, this is possibly an A-plus hike. In steady-state drizzle? It was still nice. Wish there would have been a view — any view — along the way. The trail was made for views, what with all those ledges and such. Fortunately, the trail itself had some interesting stuff along the way — log bridges, cable-aided narrow walkways, drop-offs into oblivion, steps through arched rocks, weird accommodations at the top. All it needed was views. And maybe a lighthouse. And if there’d been a family of trolls living under any of those bridges that would snatch maybe every seventh hiker or so, that also would have added interest (and thinned the crowd).

Great hiking with Telkontar, of course. He was less affected by the lack of views, no doubt in part because his alternative was being stuck in an office. Whereas my alternative was… sky’s the limit, really.

bkd

PS, This hike was in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Smoky Mountains, Rainy Weather, Ramsay Cascades Hike (Day 91)

October 18th, 2009 4 comments

It’s sort of amazing to me how much weather determines my mood. And you’d think that someone who grew up in the Seattle area would be okay with being rained on constantly, no-visibility skies, and temperatures in the low-50s. Nope. Ah, well.

Picked up my bro in Knoxville Wednesday night, slept in a Holiday Inn Express in Kodak or Sevierville (one may be a subset of the other), then trucked on down to the Ramsay Cascades trailhead in the northeast part of the park. It was an eight-mile out-and-back with a 2,400-foot elevation gain.

ramsay_little-pigeon-riverWhen it rains this much, the Little Pigeon grows up a little.

ramsay_log-bridge-telkontarA Telkontar sighting.

ramsay_ramsay-cascadesFor want of a telefoto lens, the best shot available of the falls.

ramsay_warning-signWe weren’t next.

ramsay_path-and-treesWenn von Nebel frei die Bahn!

ramsay_log-bridgeLog bridge on the way back down.

The rivers were awesome and the falls apparently relatively big — I’ve found some other photos online wherein the water coming off them is a lot less than we saw. I guess the rain *is* good for something. I was pretty soaked — as much from sweat as from rain — but lived to fight another day. Some website designated this trail as “difficult”, but that website, whatever one it was, is crazy. Or at least its author has a different definition for “difficult” than I do. Or maybe I’m just in that good of shape.

And then we decided we were wet enough that we didn’t need to prove anything by also camping in such weather. Fortunately, Pigeon Forge offers plenty of cheap hotels. Unless you plan on staying Friday or Saturday night.

bkd

PS, I’m staying in the Brick House Campground in South Carolina right now and it is the best Verizon data connection I’ve had through my MiFi the entire trip. Could some physicist out there please explain?

Shenandoah and the Two-Way View (Day 82)

October 9th, 2009 Comments off

Shenandoah is a National Park made for old people who don’t get out of their cars. There’s nothing to do there besides pull over and look out over the side and see the valley with farms and towns in it. Valleys, sorry. One on each side. They don’t change much.

shenandoah_overlookEvery quarter-mile there’s an overlook. And every overlook has this exact view (in essence).

But at least the old people are genteel. At least the local ones are. And with the photography, I just went with the old standby: leaves. I’m guessing Shenandoah is pretty brilliant by the end of October. Wasn’t as colorful as New England had been a week or two earlier, though. I suppose these things take time.

shenandoah_skyline-drive-leavesAnother couple weeks and Skyline Drive will be on fire (figuratively).

I also sort of went on two hikes. The first was to White Oak Canyon, which my Reader’s Digest book suggests is the park’s scenic highpoint. To me, the highpoint of it was getting 2.3 miles in, seeing the first little waterfall, and having the locals there tell me it wasn’t worth it to keep going, because the rest of the waterfall was going to be even less spectacular. I guess it hasn’t rained much in Va.

But, whatever, there must be hike photos, so:

shenandoah_white-oak-leavesTrailside leaves.

shenandoah_white-oak-turkeysJust after it occurred to me that this would be a pleasant enough place for turkey hunting with Sgt. York, I stumble onto these guys. Gary Cooper, however, did not make an appearance.

shenandoah_white-oak-cascadeThis is more stunning than the waterfall was.

shenandoah_white-oak-bridgeEh. It’s a bridge.

The couple at the waterfall also insisted that I should hike up to Hawk’s Bill Peak, the highest point in the park, so I did. It was a short hike. Here’s evidence it happened:

shenandoah_hawks-billThe compass tells you where the forest is on fire.

And then I headed south and out of the park, never to return again.

shenandoah_yellow-by-roadSomehow the yellow seemed significant at the time.

shenandoah_bobcatJust because you can’t see it doesn’t mean this isn’t a photo of a bobcat.

It really *was* a bobcat.

bkd

Acadia National Park and the Mt. Sargent Loop (Day 75)

October 1st, 2009 1 comment

One thing’s sort of for-sure: I don’t get very excited about shorelines. I’m glad they exist, they don’t cause much harm, but, you know: meh. Shoreline. I took a picture of this one, though, in Maine, somewhere in Acadia National Park, which is located on Mt. Desert Island about half-way up the coast. Go:

acadia_shorelineIt’s not like it’s an eye-sore, just that I’m not sure what you do with it besides look.

Anyway. Lady ranger at the visitor center also suggested, when prompted, I go on this hike to Mt. Sargent, which she described as the second-best hike in the park (I didn’t ask, I figured she knew what she was doing). In my short time in the region, I’ve developed a sort of love-hate thing with New England hikes an there was a lot of both on this one — but for a hike that had me swearing at the trail engineers for the entirety of a certain 30-minute stretch, this was a lot of fun and one I’d rank toward the top of the list. And I sort-of forgive it for being a 4.5-mile, 3.25-hour hike (that’s slow).

And the photos won’t show the fun parts so much, because it’s hard to take pictures of yourself while dangling off railings, climbing up wet granite on your hands and knees, or taking the downhill granite like a park whore parkour course (who knew?). Oh well.

For the information-hungry and per the ranger’s instructions, I took the Spring Trail to the Jordan Cliff Trail (the part with the ladders and rungs) to the East Cliff Trail (the part with the hands and knees) to the Mt. Sargent Summit to the South Ridge Trail to the Penobscot Mountain Summit to the Penobscot Trail (the parkour course) back to the Spring Trail. This was probably as dangerous a hike as I’ve done (largely because of the rain the night before — I imagine the footing’s pretty sure when the rocks are dry). It also wasn’t much of a tree prison. Excelsior.

acadia_cascade-on-trailWater trickling onto the trail.

acadia_trees-on-trailTrees, holding on tight(ly).

acadia_jordan-pondThe view of Jordan Pond from Jordan Cliff. The rung at bottom-right helps hikers not fall.

acadia_trail-ladderThis is a ladder you must climb.

acadia_stream-crossingA stream crossing! And me without my poles.

acadia_caterpillarCaterpillar: go!

acadia_sidehill-viewLooking over the side of Mt. Sargent toward a bunch of little Maine islands in the Atlantic.

acadia_cairnAnd they have cairns that look like this there.

acadia_sargent-viewView from the top.

acadia_sargent-signsSigns on Mt. Sargent.

acadia_top-of-penobscotThe top of Mt. Penobscot.

acadia_me-at-penobscotMe, there.

acadia_granite-and-railingGranite wall on the way back down.

Fun trail.

Part of what I don’t like about sea coasts is that, at least the ones I’ve been to on this trip, they’re crowded. The drive around the Acadia coast is silly with tour buses (that stop in the middle of one-lane roads) and even on a weekday at the end of September, there’s nowhere on the coast you’re going to be able to stand without having company. Big Sur and Oregon coasts felt the same way to me.

Pictured Rocks Lakeshore, though, I liked a lot. Maybe it’s just the crowds.

There’s also a lighthouse near Acadia (at the tip of the Mt. Desert Island peninsula), but it’s lame.

Dunn out.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Very Badlands (Day 52)

September 7th, 2009 2 comments

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is exactly the same as Canyonlands in Utah if you take Canyonlands and then:

  • Smash it down a bit.
  • Remove any arches or bridges.
  • Sepia-tone it.
  • Add infinite bison.

There are also prairie dogs, at least one dead porcupine, and wild horses at TRNP.

tr_cloud-vHey look! They have clouds in North Dakota, too!

tr_clouds-in-riverAnd sometimes those clouds get reflected in the Missouri River.

tr_missouri-riverOther times, the Missouri River is somewhat less reflective.

tr_badland-overviewBadlands, with neither river nor clouds.

tr_lone-treeLittle tree on the prairie. By itself. Next to a double-track pathway.

tr_wild-mustangsMy trip through the wild mustang drive-thru.

I camped there for a night — there are a lot of trains that pass nearby, but it only cost $10, so that mitigates.

Should probably say something profound, but I’m very sleepy and am getting up in 6.5 hours, so maybe you can make something up for yourself. (Thx.)

bkd

Yellowstone vs. the Tourist Horde (Day 44)

August 31st, 2009 1 comment

Even surrounded by hordes, I think geysers are pretty cool. I’d like to see them without the hordes one day — maybe they’d be even cooler. Ah. Well.

yellowstone_chromatic-poolChromatic Pool with some steamers in the background.

yellowstone_orange-rockNature’s take on the dreamsicle.

yellowstone_geyser-boardwalkTwo senior citizens walk up the sunny-day boardwalk toward their doom.

yellowstone_morning-glory-poolMorning Glory Pool — by midday, the colors fade to brownish-gray.

yellowstone_steam-and-cloudSome steam and a cloud that I liked.

yellowstone_old-faithfulEleven minutes late.

I like the colors. If I’m in the area again, I’d stop by and check out the Upper Geyser Basin again. Probably wouldn’t need to overnight it or anything, unless someone unearths some sort of incredible hike in the area, though. There are, just, too many people all trying to look at the same things here. IMHO. Always IMHO.

Oh, and the Yellowstone animal tally:

  • Two elk (one buck, one doe).
  • Three chipmunks.
  • No bears.
  • Infinite bison.

bkd

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Nearby Attractions (Day 43)

August 30th, 2009 No comments

Without a whole lot of time to explore the park, I decided I’d hit the Canyon area Friday, then the geysers on Saturday. As such, Friday:

yellowstone_lower-falls-sprayThere’s this stairway down to Lower (Yellowstone?) Falls that’s called Uncle Tom’s Trail. There are a lot of stairs there and a lot of overweight people who should maybe more-fully consider the trip back up the stairs before starting the trip down. Oh well. Also: rainbows.

yellowstone_lower-falls-viewpointLower Falls.

yellowstone_lower-falls-artists_pointSame waterfall, but this time with a “Grand Canyon” view. The canyon has interesting colors in it (not pictured).

yellowstone_grand-canyon-riverSee? Interesting colors.

yellowstone_hayden-valleyHayden Valley — sort of how you’d romantically envision all of Wyoming looking. I think it mostly doesn’t look like this, but maybe the government can fix that for us. Write your congressman (or congresswoman!).

  • Yellowstone is crowded.
  • I guess the good and bad thing about the place is that the most important sites are very accessible.
  • Actually, that seems mostly bad, since it’s hard to lose the sense that you’re not alone. Very hard.
  • Every photo ends up feeling trite since, well, anywhere you stand to take one there are five other people trying to do the same thing.
  • And then the trails don’t seem to take you anywhere you really need to go.
  • Plus, you have to buy intra-park regional trail guides ($0.50 each, but still — these are usually included on park maps).
  • But these trail guides really only talk about the often-paved little nature trails that run alongside the various parking lots.
  • In fact, some of the “trails” they include aren’t trails, they’re just parking lots.
  • And then if you ever do get onto a trail, the stuff in the guide doesn’t match up with the names of things on the signs at the trailhead.
  • Meh.

bkd

Glacier National Park: Clouds and Reflections (, Photos of)

August 28th, 2009 3 comments

The sky in Montana seems normal-sized to me. I don’t get the big sky thing. Maybe it only applies in Billings and Great Falls. OTOH, they have some pretty awesome clouds, which *are* in the sky. Eh.

glacier_reynolds-mtnReynolds Mountain, near the Logan Pass Visitors Center.

glacier_clements-mtn-cloudsClements Mountain, from about the same place as the last photo.

glacier_reynolds-mtn-cloudsReynolds Mountain from a little further down the road.

glacier_contrail-and-cloudsContrail, clouds. Obviously.

glacier_lake-sherburneLake Sherburne, looking toward the Many Glacier area.

glacier_swiftcurrent-lakeAcross Swiftcurrent Lake.

glacier_swiftcurrent-lake_glaciersSame lake, different view (slightly).

  • I didn’t really get Glacier after the first day, but after the third I was sad to leave.
  • The thing that’s great about it is that it feels like there’s so much to explore there — every valley looks different from the last one, for instance — and that gives you a lot of opportunities for something like solitude.
  • The other great thing, or at least the thing that I think makes Glacier unique, is all the glacially-formed “horns” there. A lot of spikes there that look like they belong in the Alps.
  • Plus I caught a fish there, which endears me somewhat.
  • And next time I’d know to probably stay on the east side of the park — it’s more convenient to the good parts.

bkd

Swiftcurrent Pass to Bullhead Lake Hike (Day 41)

August 27th, 2009 3 comments

Back at Apgar and using my Vz wifi, found a website that reviewed all the fishing lakes (and hikes) in Glacier and — oh man. I should hire a monkey to randomly type letters for my intros to these things. Whatever. The guide made an off-handed reference about how all the best stuff at Glacier is found at Many Glaciers anyway, including the best fishing lakes (paraphrased). Hadn’t been to that part of the park yet (it’s the northeast corner of the US part of the park) and I still wanted to fulfill one of man’s oldest desires, namely tricking of an almond-sized-brained creature into impaling itself on a sharp piece of metal. So I went there (long drive, much construction).

There’s a hike from Logan Pass to Swiftcurrent Pass that’s supposed to be awesome, but requires two cars. Figured doing this one would let me take care of half that hike.

swiftcurrent_bear-frequentingDo bears frequent the area or does the area frequent bears? And I like it when people wear bear-bells. Sounds like Christmas.

swiftcurrent_trail-peakThe trail with some peak in the distance.

swiftcurrent_redrock-lake-peaksRedrock Lake. I didn’t fish here, due to the high fishing pressure the website warned me about.

swiftcurrent_creek-n-peakThe ol’ creek-‘n-peak.

swiftcurrent_bullhead-lakeBullhead Lake. About 8 miles r/t, btw.

swiftcurrent_me-castingMe, casting. In background: water, falling.

swiftcurrent_caught-troutAnd, 90 minutes later (not on the same cast), success!

swiftcurrent_trout-danglingHe didnt want to hold still for the photo. Caught on a Blue Fox Super Vibrax #3 Spinner at 1:45 PM, about the same time I got hypothermia from standing barefoot in the water for two hours.

swiftcurrent_trout-jumpAnd then I caught this guy trying to swim up a cascade.

I only caught the one fish, but I’m guessing the marginal utility of zero to one fish is about 8x the marginal utility from one to two. And it was a beautiful hike. I’d like to go back and do the one that goes over the pass some day. Some time when someone else is there with a car, I guess. Looks like a heck of a climb.

bkd