Thursday, October 12, 2017

Among Trees

Last weekend was a long weekend (Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving) and I was determined that our family should do something together outside. The only problem was that it was supposed to rain pretty much the entire weekend. And Daniel had been feeling a bit under the weather.

But with a promise that I would do all of the planning, packing, and driving, I convinced him that we should go to the Cherohala Skyway to do a hike (or two).

There were a couple of things I wanted to check out – a short hike to Hooper Bald (last year we visited Huckleberry Knob), a stop at the Indian Boundary Campground, possibly going to the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness to walk among 400+ year old trees, and if we had time, a stop at Bald River Falls.

Daniel pretty much told me I was crazy and we could do one, maybe two of the things on my list...

We agreed that since we had already visited a bald on the Cherohala Skyway (technically two, since we backpacked to Bob Bald years ago), that we should go and see the virgin forest.

As we drove the length of the skyway, the temperature dropped more than twenty degrees at the highest point. The leaves changed from green to yellow to red to barren trees the higher we ventured.

When we neared Hooper Bald, we drove into a cloud with very little visibility. It seemed silly to do the hike, even if it was short, if we couldn't see anything. So we pressed on across the mountains to the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness.

Driving brought back memories – first we passed the Turkey Creek campground. I mentioned that I thought we had camped there before. I later checked my blog and discovered that we had indeed camped there with friends in 2008. As we crossed the mountains, we passed the turn off for Stratton Meadow that lead to Bob Bald. I had a feeling we had been there before too. A look back on my blog confirmed my suspicions of an overnight backpacking trip seven years ago (in 2010).

And then we got to Huckleberry Knob and I remembered hiking there with our boys last year.

As we pressed on I continue to be shocked that Daniel and I biked up the North Carolina side of the Cherohala Skyway to Santeetlah (the highest point) ten years ago (2007). A) I still have a hard time believing that we I did that ride and, B) I'm pretty sure we must have been a little crazy (it was pre-kids after all!).

Anyways, once again we found ourselves exploring this beautiful area of the country.

The Joyce Kilmer Wilderness was named after the poet, Joyce Kilmer, who died during WWI. One of his most famous poems is "Trees."

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast

A tree looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair

Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain
Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree

The Little Santeetlah Forest was original spared the saw due to a series of bankruptcy by different timber companies. It is said that this little cove of giant poplars was left by the loggers because they admired the big timber and couldn't bring themselves to cut the giant trees. Eventually the last owner, Gennet Lumber Company proposed preserving the large trees and the Federal Government was able to purchase the extraordinary tract of land for $28/acre in 1936. And so this last virgin forest of the East was spared the saw.

The trail is a two-mile figure eight that meanders through the woods, next to giant poplars. Currently one of the loops is closed due to fire damage, but we were still able to walk among the giant trees.

While we hiked, Daniel shouted at Jack to S T O P. Jack has a habit of running ahead on the trail. He almost jumped directly on a black snake that had decided to take the opportunity to cross the trail at the same time we were sauntering by. Thankfully it wasn't a poisonous snake, and thankfully Jack listened and stopped when his daddy yelled.

I love being in nature and getting to spend time with Daniel, introducing our kids to wonderful sights like the Cherohala Skyway and a virgin forest. I love making new memories as a family and reminiscing about old trips.

After completing our hike, we drove back across the Skyway. I was vetoed by my family in regards to stopping to hike Hooper Bald (no clouds on the way back). They did appease me a let me stop a few times to take photos.

On our last stop Jack and I saw two bald eagles circling high above our heads.

Our final stop was at Indian Boundary. The kids played in the sand on the beach and Jack swam for a bit as the sun set behind the mountain. It was so peaceful – the perfect way to end our afternoon. We can't wait to go back and camp and take our kayaks.

We didn't have time for Bald River Falls, but went on to Tellico Plains for supper. We almost stopped at Hardees because we had no cell service and we didn't know where to eat.

Jack said no to Hardees and we drove back to the historic area and found a diner that was open.

As luck would have it, it was a pickin' hall and Saturday night is when the locals come and play. So we ate a delicious dinner while listening to good music. It was an unexpected way to end a wonderful day. 

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