Thursday, December 21, 2006

Golf Balls

My new hobby is searching for golf balls on rainy days when I have nothing better to do. There are 5 golf courses within 4 1/2 miles of my house so I am not far from easy action. I average about 1 found ball for every 2 minutes in the woods. In 2 hours I usually find 60-75. Rainy days are best because there are few on no golfers on the courses. I have all of the water proof, breathable gore-tex gear so the rain is not a problem for me. The winter is the best time of year to search because in the warm months the snakes, ticks and chiggers make it too interesting. The thickest, thorniest, steepest and rockiest places, where most people would not go, is where I find the most golf balls. But it is amazing how many balls are just out in the open right inside the woods.

Since I now have a garage full of golf balls I was trying to decide which ones I should use. After hours on the web and reading numerous articles I have come up with the following conclusions.

The best balls for you are determined largely by your swing speed. Many pro shops or anyone who makes clubs will probably have a swing speed meter. Your swing speed will also determine which clubs are best for you (but then that is another issue).

Unless you are shooting 80 or under for 18 holes (this probably doesn't include many people reading this blog) you should probably be using a 2-piece ball with below average spin and low compression. The low compression gives most of us with our less than 100 mph swing speeds greater distance, and the below average spin gives our amateur form straighter drives because of less slice or hook.

Those over $50 per dozen Titleist Pro V1’s and Nike One’s that the pros use will actually give most of us much less distance and much more slice. Unless your swing speed is over 100 and preferably 115 or greater, most of us can’t take advantage of these balls. They will actually hurt your game.

Here are the best balls to use:

Swing speed under 75 mph

Titleist DT So Lo
Maxfli Noodle
Precept Laddie
Nike Mojo
Callaway Big Bertha-red or blue

Swing Speed 75-100 mph

Titleist NXT
Nike Power Distance
Nike Power Soft
Maxfli Noodle Ice
Top Flight Quartz
Callaway Hot
Some articles say the Pinnacle Exception and Gold may be OK. Some say to avoid all Pinnacles.

Only for those with 100+ mph swing speed

Titleist ProV1
Nike One
Nike Platinum
Callaway HX Tour
Maxfli Black Max
Bridgestone B-330

Some articles say to never use Top Flight XL’s, 2000’s, or 3000’s or any Pinnacles. This is very interesting since Top Flights are the balls that I find in the woods the most… far. If you need some Top Flights, give me a call. Then when your Top Flight XL 2000 spins into the woods it will give me something to find on the next rainy day.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winter Bluebirds

If you thought that Bluebirds fly south for the winter....they don't. At least not around here, and not in Ohio either.

The bluebird at left is sitting on the edge of the bluebird feeding tray that I built to attach to our deck railing. The doggone mealworms didn't like to hang around too long waiting to get eaten and they would crawl off of the railing. This new feeding tray makes it a little harder for the little fellows to get away. We also put cut up raisins and cranberries on the tray for the bluebirds.

The first time I realized that bluebirds stay for the winter was about 5 years ago while we were in Ohio at Christmastime. I was out hiking in the snow in the woods and saw several bluebirds. When I got back to Texas after Christmas I made a couple of bluebird houses for my daughter in Ohio and she raised babies in her backyard the first summer. After some trials and tribulations with those nasty House Sparrows, she raised more bluebirds this year.

We had one pair of bluebirds raise two seperate nests of babies this right after the other. Now we have up to 6 bluebirds dropping in about 2 or 3 times a day for mealworms and berries. We can't tell if our daily visitors are the parents or all just the teenagers since the babies are all grown up now and they all have their adult plumage.

Bluebirds normally eat insects in the warm months and whatever berries they can find in the cold months. It must be a real treat for them to find insects (the mealworms) this time of year. They always eat the mealworms first and then come back later for the berries.

This picture was taken into the sun so the colors don't show up very vividly, but the pose is exactly like the one in a framed picture that our next door neighbor (soon to be not done yet) gave us. Their picture is better, but I like the 'here's looking at you' pose.

Even though the bluebirds obviously don't nest in the winter, we keep the bluebird box up since we have read that on very cold nights as many as 8 or 10 bluebirds will crowd into a bluebird box to huddle together for warmth. With the temperature scheduled to drop to 13 tonight, this might be one of those times.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Run Bucky, run!

Tthis picture was taken about a week ago while hiking in the woods near my house. It is a buck but I couldn't tell how many points. Not too many, probably about 4, is my guess. This picture was taken a few days before the beginning of deer season in Tennessee. But if he stays in the Fairfield Glade area this deer should be relatively safe. I say "relatively" because even though hunting is prohibited in Fairfield Glade, there are a few local Tennessee boys who have been known to try to shoot a deer along the roads from their car.

Last winter I found a few strands of deer hair and some blood on the road not far from my house. I called the local police because they had told me previously that they were trying to catch a poacher who would drive the roads and shoot from his truck (a grey GMC). I thought that I was Mr. CSI Tennessee (Crime Scene Investigator). But the officer told me that it was a police car that collided with the deer and not a shooting. It's kind of ironic that the police trying to stop a poacher from killing deer would run over one with their cruiser. Life is tough for a deer.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tennessee License Plates

We moved here from Texas where, as far as I know, there is only one license plate. At least that is all that I ever remember seeing. You could get personalized plates, but except for the letters and numbers, they all had the same design.

The picture of the new for 2006 Tennessee plate was my first ever posting on this blog. This plate is beautiful. It looks just like the mountains around here....that is until the numbers and letters are added. Then the mountain layers are obscured and you can't tell what the picture is.

However, if you don't like the new standard plate don't dispair. By my count you have up to 116 other choices...not counting personalization of the letters and numbers. There are 13 different plate designs for Club/Groups, 42 for Colleges, 22 for Military, 32 Miscellaneous, 5 for emergency personnel, 2 for the disabled, and finally 1 for the Tennessee Titans. (there are at least 5 for the University of Tennesse Volunteers)

Even though the speciality plates cost more than the standard plates, the extra cost usually goes to support the subject of the plate. For example the extra cost of the Bear Plate on my car goes to support the species and the enhancement of their habitat. Cool!

Nancy's car has the Bluebird Plate. The extra cost for this plate goes for the protection of non-game species.

If you live in Tennessee you can go to this site Tennessee License Plates to view your options.

If you like choices and you like to support some cause through your license plate and your contribution, then this is the state for you. Happy motoring.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

2 Days in the Smoky Mountains

Here we are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 2 days of hiking with the Fairfield Glade Hiking Club.

The weather was perfect! It was in the 70's both days and that is about as good as it gets this time of year in the mountains. 34 of us traveled the 90 miles to GSMNP on Thursday morning. The first day, we hiked 5.1 miles on a 3 trail loop.

As you can see in this photo, the streams were running higher than normal due to some recent rain. We had to build log bridges or wade at a couple of spots that we had just stepped over a couple of weeks earlier.

This picture is along the trail the 2nd day. This hike was 6.1 miles long. It was also the combination of 3 different trails. Near the end of the trail at a graveyard near the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Bob Callis gave us a little history lesson about the early part of the century (the last century, not this one).

You might have to click on this last photo to get a better view. This was taken in Cades Cove after the hike. Cades Cove is a flat valley in the heart of the Smokys that at one time was where most to the settlers and farmers lived in these mountains. Today, Cades Cove has an 11 mile driving loop where we have often seen bears and deer. However. the animals in this picture are horses.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Over the past several weeks we have had visitors and then we traveled up to Indiana and to Pennsylvania and then back to Tennessee over a 5 day period. But now we are back in town for awhile. I like to post something about once a week and I did have a couple of nice pictures from close to home (actually both of these pictures were taken from my house). This first one is looking out our back windows. This picture was taken with a 12x telephoto so the hills show a little closer than usual. Those hills are really about 6 miles away and they always look different depending on the fog, or haze, or sun or time of day. This one was taken in the early morning. I like the layered look.

This picture was a sunset about a week ago. It was taken out the front of the house.

By the way, if you are planning to buy a new digital camera, I have a good recommendation for you. I like Canon cameras for two reasons. First they rate very high in Consumer Reports (but then again so do several other brands). Secondly, our first digital camera was a Canon and I liked it alot. But it was 5 or 6 years old and only 2 megapixls so I needed to upgrade. I bought one camera (a Canon S3 IS) with a 12x telephoto for animals and long shots, and another (a Canon SD 800 IS) that is very small for taking hiking, etc.

But my recommendation is not on the will need to decide what works best for you. My recommendation is on where to buy it. Once you figure out what camera you want, go to Beach Camera. The advantage of Beach Camera is 1) Oustanding customer rating, 2) Much lower prices than stores like Circuit City or Best Buy, 3)No tax, 4)No shipping charges.

I ordered one camera on a Thursday online and it was delivered on Saturday afternoon by Federal Express. The other one took 3 days. But the main thing was the substantial price savings. Now if I can only get though the 124 page instruction manuals I can take advantage of everything that these new cameras can do. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ladybug Beetles

Wow, there has been a Ladybug explosion! Here in Fairfield Glade and also in many other places across the country, all of the sudden, Ladybugs are everywhere. On the windows, in the garage, in the house, and especially on hole 13 on the Crag Course at Heatherhurst Golf Club here in Tennessee. What is going on?

Well, it is a natural phenomenom and it is harmless. These Ladybug Beetles are specifically called Convergent Ladybug Beetles. They are good insects. Both the adults, pictured here, and the larvae eat aphids and scale insects which can damage plants. The Ladybug beetles are harmless to plants and humans, except that they sometimes can transmit a fungus that is harmful to Dogwood trees.

The beetles come in various shades of red and orange, with black spots.
They are here all year, it is just that this time of year the beetles quit eating and begin to cluster into large groups that will hibernate together over the winter.
Someone told me that they stain your walls and stink if you smash them. I wouldn't know because I didn't, and I don't, plan to crush any. But it makes sense because the Ladybugs have a foul tasting chemical in their leg joints that is their defense against being eaten. It is kind of like the skunk factor. You may tangle with one once, but you will avoid them going forward. Birds leave the beetles alone either because they tried one themself once, or because the birds are DNA programmed to avoid them.

So, just swish your Ladybug Beetles away and sit back and enjoy nature. If we are lucky they will be back again next fall.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New Camera

Well, here is one of the first pictures from my new camera. These are the leaves from a Sassafras Tree beginning to show their fall colors. The leaves around here are probably 2/3 of their way to full color.

My old camera was a Canon, about 6 years old, and it took some great pictures. But there were a couple of problems. First, it was only 2 megapixels, which means (as I understand it) that if I decided to blow any pictures up to 8 by 10 or bigger that the pixels might start to show. I have been looking for some great landscape pictures from this part of the country, particularly the Smokys, to mat, frame, and hang in our house. I have determined that I might be able to take some of them myself, but with just a 2.0 pixel camera I couldn't blow them up very large. Second, the optical telephoto on my old camera was only 3X. That made it hard to get close pictures of animals. My new Canon S3 IS with 6 megapixels, 12X telephoto and image stabilization will solve those problems. Plus, my old camera didn't have a Macro setting. When I tried to take a picture of a pea sized Black Widow Spider all I got was a black dot. The new camera can get as close as the lens touching the object.

This picture of some yellow wild flowers is an example of getting close. If you click on the photo to see a full size view, you can see the drops of water on the petals. In fact, I just discovered that if you click, wait for the picture to enlarge, and then click again, you get an even bigger, closer picture. Try it.

My neighbors are once again questioning my sanity when they see me kneeling in their yards to take a picture of a blade of grass. I thought that explaining the new camera and the up close Macro function might keep them from calling the guys in the white coats again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smoky Mountain Pre-hike

What is a pre-hike you ask? Let me explain. On November 9 & 10 our Fairfield Glade hiking club is going to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 2 days of hiking. Normally we hike on Fridays, but once in a while we do a 2-day overnight hike. We will stay in motels and eat dinner in restaurants, but hike 2 consecutive days in an area a little further away than normal.

Nancy and I, along with Ray and Marion Miner are in charge of this particular 2 days of hiking. So prior to November 9 we have to pre-hike the trails to make sure that the length and difficulty are appropriate for the club. That's Nancy looking cute during a short rest on the trail.

Yesterday, 7 of us drove to the Smokys and hiked 7.1 miles on a 3 trail loop. We determined that the hike is probably not a good one for the club for 2 reasons: length and difficulty. A group of people hiking together is like that saying about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. A hiking group is only as fast as its slowest hiker. The first 1.8 miles of yesterday's hike was straight uphill for about 1,500 vertical feet. The next 5.3 miles back to the trailhead was much easier but the total hike took us almost 5 hours. A larger group would hike slower and stop more often. So we found a way to do a 5 mile hike on some of the same trails but without the 1.8 uphill in the beginning. It will take a car shuttle, but that will work OK.

We had pre-hiked another 5.4 mile loop trail 2 weeks ago and that one will be fine for the group.

But be warned! If you plan to visit the GSMNP in the next couple of weeks be prepared for traffic. Two weeks ago when we were there hardly anyone was in the park. Yesterday we could hardly get across the road to get to the trailhead. There was a steady stream of cars. As you can see from the top photo the leaves are just barely starting to change on the higher elevations. The leaves should be extraordinary in a few weeks, but then again so should the traffic.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tennessee Browns

Ray and I took a little fishing trip today to the Elk River near Lynchburg Tennessee. Lynchburg is famous around the world as the home to the Jack Daniels distillery and Jack Daniels whiskey. We liked it better for the trout. That is a 14 inch Brown Trout in the picture.

The Elk River is a tailwater coming out of Tim's Ford dam. In fact, we fished nearly in the shadow of the dam. That can be a little tricky because, like most tailwater streams, the turbines could be started up at anytime and the water level will quickly go from calm and smooth to wild and dangerous. Supposedly, there is a siren to warm those downstream that the water is about to rise quickly and high. We had called ahead and got the generating schedule and it was supposed to be quiet all day....but then again, you have to always be on the alert for rising water.

Here is another smaller Brown Trout that I caught. Most of the fish we caught were Rainbows, but I did catch 3 or 4 Browns.

The Elk is a fairly small stream as tailwaters go....not too deep and easy to wade. We only saw about 4 or 5 other fishermen all day. One man that I talked to on the river said that this stream is never crowded, but it always fishes well. We caught fish steadily all day, mostly on nymphs (especially my favorite Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear that I tie myself) but I did get one nice Brown on an Elk Hair Caddis dry fly. That seemed appropriate for the Elk River.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Smoky Mountain Bears

The picture is a little blury. It may be because the bear was running or maybe it is because the photographer was shaking. I kind of think that many wild bear pictures might be blury.

This is a Black Bear in the Cades Cove section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). We went to the Smokys with Ted and Sherry Crawford of Johnstown PA. Sherry took this photo. I am sure that Sherry was steady, but the bear was moving. This is one of 6 bears that we saw last Tuesday. There are estimated to be about 1,700 bears in the park.

We first saw one bear in the woods beside the road. There was a "bear jam" which is a traffic jam in the GSMNP due to the spotting of a bear. There were 20 people out of their cars looking at the bear, some as close as 15 yards away. The bear was grazing on acorns in the woods. It obviously knew the people were there but it ignored them. A year or two ago a black bear killed a woman right near one of the streams that we normally fish not far from here. Usually the bears are not a threat to humans, but I wouldn't let my 5 year old kids get within 20 yards like some people did.

A little further down the road we saw the bear in the picture. It was the biggest of 4 bears travelling together. It appeared to be a mother with last years cubs. I believe that black bears only have cubs every other year. This bear actually charged a couple of people taking pictures who only had a barbed wire fence between them and the bear. Sherry got the picture as the bear retreated after the charge. Most charges are just a bluff to let someone know that they are getting too close.

This bear then joined the 3 smaller ones and together they moved to a very large oak tree in the middle of a field. Three deer ran from the field, stopping to look back at the bears every so often. All 4 bears climbed to the smallest outer branches of the tree and stripped acorns from the branches. We watched them for 20 minutes until the light started to fade. It was amazing how agile the bears were in the tree. They climbed straight up the broad trunk just like a cat might. They stood on one leg and reached out to the smallest branches for acorns. Three weeks ago we saw bears in the wild cherry trees in the park doing the same climbing for cherries.

A few minutes later we saw another very large bear grazing for acorns under another oak tree in a field.
This last photo has nothing to do with the bears. It is just a picture of the sun shinning down through the trees as we were leaving the Cades Cove area on Wednesday. It was a great time to visit the Smokys. The weather was crisp and cool and the park wasn't jammed up with leaf lookers. October is the second most busy month in the park after July.
Don't forget you can click on the pictures for a bigger view.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Smoky Mountain Views

We took a 2-day trip to the Smokys this week with my nephew Ted Crawford and his wife Sherry. The mountains are beautiful.

We did the usual stuff like visiting Clingman's dome, the highest point in the park. The views from Clingman's Dome are excellent. That is, they are if the weather and visability cooperate. We had a little bit of fog and some haze, but not bad. At left is a view looking down on some mountains with cloud shadows.

Another great stop is the Sugarlands visitor center. It has very informative displays and a very nice gift shop. There are rangers on hand to answer any questions you may have and to give informal demonstrations and talks.

We hiked a little over 5 miles on a back country trail. There were specific bear warning signs for our trail. A ranger said that a bear had been confronting hikers by standing up on its hind legs and growling, just like on TV. We didn't see that bear. It probably knew not to mess with us.

We also did the loop drive around Cades Cove. We have always had great luck seeing wildlife on the Cades Cove trip. At left is one of the deer that we saw. As you can see, Cades Cove is a large flat bowl. It is only about 1,500 feet elevation and it is surrounded by 4,5,and 6 thousand foot mountains. This is the area that was farmed in the early 1900's. The park still mows and burns it on a regular basis, to keep it like it was in the early part of the century and probably to make it easier to see wildlife. Cades Cove is like a drive through an animal park except that the animals here are wild and are not fenced in.

Oh, did we see any bears? Yes we did! More on that in the next posting. My camera was acting up in the zoom mode so I am waiting for the great shot that Sherry got to show the picture and tell the story.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Black Mountain Chain Gang

Well, not really a chain gang....but we worked like one. This is about 1/4 of the members of the Fairfield Glade Hiking Club that participated in trail maintenance at Black Mountain today.

Black Mountain is only about 10 miles from our house. At 2828 feet, it is one of the taller peaks on the plateau. On a clear day you can see for many miles in all directions. When we were there last spring we could see the Smoky Mountains 75 miles away. At over 6,600 feet, the Smokys towered above our little peaks on the plateau.

Our club is the official guardian of the Black Mountain portion of the Cumberland Trail which traverses Tennessee. Friday is our normal hiking day, but today instead of hiking we worked on the trail.

It sounds a lot more glamorous than it is. Trail building and maintenance always sounded like an exciting outdoorsy type of thing to do. I even considered signing up for a week of this manual labor on the Appalachian Trail. I am sure glad that I didn't! Two hours of using a fire rake, or a McCloud (all-purpose chopper-raker kind of thing) and I was glad it started raining.

The goal is to create or maintain a corridor 4 feet wide by 8 feet high. We did that! In the process we pruned limbs, chopped out roots, and dug out some rocks on the trail. In real trail work you also dig down through any topsoil to the "mineral soil" which is a lighter color. Plants do not grow as easily in the mineral soil so the trail is less likely to grow over as soon. Our mostly retired hiking club didn't have enough muscle power to dig down to the mineral soil. But we all did our jobs of raking, chopping, pruning, etc. and the trail looked like a boulevard. It wasn't much, but every little bit helps. By the way, that is Nancy in the middle of the picture with her round white name badge.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Toad on the Road

If you drive around here at all at night you will often see lots of toads on the road...all sizes. I think that most of them are the Eastern American Toads. Fowler Toads are also found around here, but every one that I checked out was an American Toad.

We also often have toads on our driveway. The one in this picture hopped into the mulch near the driveway for his portrait. We have a light out by the mailbox and three lights on the garage. These lights attract insects and the insects attract the toads. Once, a few years ago when the June Bugs were especially abundant, several toads would gather under the street light near our house and gorge themselves on the June Bugs. I picked one up and you could feel all the June Bugs in its stomach.

I think the toads like the roads because the roads warm up during the day and probably hold the heat a little after the air cools down. Toads are cold blooded like snakes and they have to get their warmth where they can find it.

And, speaking of snakes, there is a snake around here that is a toad specialist. The Eastern Hog-nosed snake feeds almost entirely on toads. Good for them because toads probably aren't too tasty. If you have ever picked up a toad you will know that the first thing a toad does when picked up is pee all over your hand. They also have a secretion from a gland behind each eye that will irritate your eyes and nose if you let it touch those areas. But, thank goodness, since the toad just got done peeing on you I'll bet you do a pretty good job of keeping you hands away from your mouth and eyes. Contrary to that old tale, toads do not give you warts. But then you knew that.

I haven't seen a Hog-nosed snake around here yet but Nancy and I did see one in the Palo Duro Canyon in Texas a few years ago. As we were hiking a trail we met several people coming the other way and telling us that there was a Rattlesnake up ahead on the trail. Well, when we got there it was a Hog-nosed snake, not a Rattlesnake. Hog-nosed snakes hiss and act aggressively until that act doesn't work and then they play dead. I just eased it off the trail and we hiked on. But, seeing that snake had Nancy on high alert. A few minutes later a bike rider came up behind us and when he said "pardon me, can I pass" Nancy jumped about 3 feet and screamed. She was thinking nothing but "snake" and any sound behind her at that point was more than a snake-a-phobe could handle. That snake wouldn't hurt us. He was just looking for a toad on the road.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Smoky Mountain Fly Fishing

There is nothing more beautiful than fly fishing in the Smoky Mountains. The scenery is great and the fish are all wild - no stocked fish. At left is my fly fishing buddy Ray on the Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Little River is listed in "Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best Trout Streams".

We went for a 2-day trip for two purposes: 1) do some fly fishing, and 2) pre-screen some trails for an upcoming Fairfield Glade Hiking Club trip. We never got around to item number 2 - we will have to go back.

The fly shop web site had been saying that the fishing has been excellent lately. But that is not what we found the two days that we were there. Oh yeah, we caught some fish, but we really had to work hard to get them. I think that we caught about 14 between us. We tried 4 different streams and numerous flys, both drys and nymphs. I read the fly shop fishing report when I got home and it said that fishing was very very slow while we were there. Other fishermen were reporting few or no fish caught. So, it wasn't just us.

As you can see from the pictures the Park was beautiful. The mornings were cool and the daytime temperatures perfect. The leaves haven't started to change color yet, so the number of visitors in the Park was manageable. I understand that once the leaves start to change that a fair portion of the 9 million annual visitors shows up. The GSMNP is the most visited National Park in the country.

We talked to two people who ran into 2 bears on one of the trails and backed off the trail to give the bears room. The bears moved on when they saw the people. That is the way is usually works. Another place there was a sign at a trailhead that warned of an aggressive bear on that trail. A ranger told me that probably someone fed the bear and it lost its fear of humans. That always spells more problems for the bear than it does for people. The rule is: If a bear ever becomes aggressive towards humans and it continues, the bear is darted and moved. If a bear ever makes contact with a human the bear is killed. Signs in the Park say "A fed bear is a dead bear" So don't feed the bears.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mount LeConte...part 2, the Top

The Alum Cave trail leading to Mount LeConte is beautiful, but the view from the top is fabulous. Mount LeConte is at 6,593 feet. It is the 6th highest peak east of the Mississippi and only 91 feet lower than the highest (Mount Mitchell in NC). The LeConte Lodge is the highest resort east of the Mississippi.

The lodge was started in 1925. Back then it was supposedly a destination for Washington D.C. VIPs to see the great views. Today it is not modern by any stretch of the imagination. As you can see from the pictures, it is very rustic. Our room, in a 3 room lodge, had a queen size bed but the room was barely larger than the bed. The only lights are kerosene lanterns. There are propane heaters in the rooms because even in the summer the temperature can get down into the 40s. In the history of the mountain the temperature has never reached 80 degrees. The propane is helicoptered in each spring along with building supplies and whatever else is needed for the year. There is also a spring that supplies running water to a spigot outside between the buildings.

Dinner was family style in the dining lodge. The food was beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, etc. $8 extra got us all the wine we could drink. I've got to admit that I saw a worker carrying the wine into the dining hall. It is the kind that comes in a box, but after 4 hours of hiking and at almost 6600 feet elevation, it tasted great. Breakfast was pancakes, eggs, ham, homemade biscuits, etc. The food and supplies are delivered to the lodge a couple of times each week by llama pack train. The used to use horses but llamas are easier on the trail because their feet are softer.

Even though it rained most of the day on the way up, it cleared in the evening so we had clouds below us and blue sky above. It was like being in an airplane above the clouds. We could see Clingman's Dome (50 feet higher than Mt. LeConte) in the distance and fog was pouring down over some of the mountains just like the fog rolls into San Francisco. The sunset was great as you can see in the picture below. Looking over one side of the mountain was the sunset and the other side had a rainbow at the same time.

The views were worth the trip but unless you are staying overnight you will have to miss the sunset because the trip back down is 4 hours.

Mount Leconte and LeConte Lodge is a great experience. We highly recommend it.

By the way, you can click on any picture to see it bigger. This blog site only allows one large, two medium, or 4 small pictures per posting. So I went with the small ones in order to get more in.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mount LeConte...part 1, the trail.

This is part one of a two part account of our trip to LeConte Lodge on top of Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Part one is about the hike and part two will be about LeConte Lodge and the scenery at the top.

While reading the daily fly fishing report from the Little River Outfitters web site, I read from time to time about the daily temperature or rain on Mount LeConte. I looked up Mt. LeConte on the internet and found that there was a lodge at 6,593 feet that had overnight accommodations and meals but could only be reached by a minimum of a 5 mile hike. That caught my interest immediately.

Nancy and I have backpacked with the Sierra Club to Colorado, New Mexico, and Big Bend National Park on 3 or 4 day trips. While we enjoy the hiking and the scenery tremendously, we don’t necessarily enjoy the 35-45 pound packs and the sleeping on the ground (even with great Therm-a-Rest pads). A hike, great scenery, a warm bed and wine with dinner…..count me in!

However, it turns out that the LeConte Lodge books a year in advance and it takes some people 5 years to get a reservation. This place is in demand! So, I sent an email to the reservation address on Friday evening August 18 and asked if there were any cancellations. Three days later I received an email stating that there was a cancellation for 2 on August 31. Count us in!

The only way to get to the lodge is via hiking trail. There are five trails to choose from ranging from 5.0 to 8.0 miles. I chose the Alum Cave trail, not because it was the shortest at 5 miles but for a couple of other reasons. First, it is supposed to be the most scenic trail to the top (although also the most strenuous) but second, because I thought that our car might be safer overnight near a main road rather that on a back road where the other trails originated.

Alum Cave Trail is beautiful. Even though it was rainy and foggy most of the trip up, we had all the right rain gear and were dry. It is all uphill, but it starts out gradually, following streams for the first mile. There are some single log bridges over the streams and a rock staircase through a natural tunnel. The view is mostly rhododendron, hemlock (some 200 years old) and yellow birch. At 2 miles there is a view of Inspiration Point and Peregrine Peak. A little further is Alum Cave Bluffs, a large overhang and a frequent day hike destination.

The second half of the trail is steeper, rockier, and sometimes very narrow with some places consisting of a rock wall on your right and a steep drop off on your left. Some sections of the trail had cables attached to the rock wall to hang onto. Nancy slowed down and walked very carefully at these points. Hiking poles help your balance as well as your knees on trails like this.

The vegetation is very thick the whole way up. A black bear could be 6 feet from the trail and you couldn’t see it. In fact one was. On the way back down, a woman about 20 yards behind us let out a yell as a bear crashed onto the trail behind her and then on down into the rhododendron below the trail. Both she and the bear scared each other. But I think only one had wet pants. A day earlier, on the way up, we met a couple coming down that also saw a bear on the trail. Once again, it ran when it saw the people. Someone else told us that at the beginning of the week, the Park Rangers had to dart and relocate a bear nearby that was showing a little too much aggression toward humans.

The last mile or so of the trail before LeConte Lodge looks like a Pacific Northwest rain forest with spruces and firs and logs covered with moss. You expect to see an elk stepping out at any time. There are elk in the GSMNP, but I don’t believe they are near this area of the park.

The hike is 5 miles one way. The web sites and the people we talked to said that it takes about 4 hours. I figured that we would beat that time. Our times up and down were just about the same……4 hours.

Alum Cave Trail is a beautiful hike. It is hard, but not too hard. It is just long enough to appreciate it, but not too long to not enjoy it. By the way, if you think you are a hiker, look up a man named Ed Wright. He has hiked the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte once in 1982, then twice in 1985. He is currently at roundtrip number 1301. He hiked it 230 times in 1991 alone. He has had a knee replaced a few years ago and doesn’t hike it as often anymore; so, if you start soon you might be able to beat his record.

Part two….The Top… a few days.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sunset in East Tennessee and other stuff.

When I first started this blog, my friends Tom and Meg both wrote to me and said "include pictures". So now, for every blog entry I include a picture or two. I haven't had any blog entries for a couple of weeks because I didn't have any good pictures to post.

I still don't, but I decided to post an entry anyway. This picture is a view of a sunset within the last week with our roses in the foreground. It is kind of dark, but that is the nature of this sunset. It is not much, but it is all I have at the present time. Even so, you have to love those dark, dark, reds of the sunset. If you lived in the west and saw this you would call the fire department.

I have been in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park 3 times in the last 3 weeks, but I didn't have the camera. In the Cades Cove area of the Park Nancy and I saw 4 bears in the tall wild Cherry trees fattening up on cherries for the winter. (By the way, did you know that in the Smoky Mountains that 80% of the bears hibernate in standing hollow trees, as high up as 80 feet.) I have been trout fishing twice and caught lots of small ones and a couple of nice Rainbows, but again no camera. (Another factoid....trout are not stocked in the GSMNP; all of the trout there are wild.)

We are going to the the Smokys for two days to stay at a lodge at Mount Le Conte (6,593 feet elevation...I know is not Colorado high but it is very high for the east) and we will take a camera this time. Hopefully we will get a few nice photos.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Traffic jam at the feeding station.

During most of the summer we have had one or two Ruby Throated Hummingbirds at our feeder. But several weeks ago that all changed. There are now Hummingbirds at the two feeders constantly and, as you can see from the photo, sometimes there is a waiting line for an open spot. We think that the reason for the big increase in birds is that the babies have hatched and now there are many more Hummingbirds around. Neighbors and friends with feeders have seen the same increase.

We have two identical feeders off the deck about 10 feet apart. For some reason most of the Hummingbirds prefer the one to the right. When they agree to cooperate, that feeder often has 5 or 6 birds feeding at one time.

The other feeder often has just one short fat male sitting on the feeder railing by himself. He aggressively chases everyone else away from "his" feeder.

One interesting event happened a couple of days ago. A neighbor called to say that a Hummingbird was in his garage and couldn't find her way out even though all 3 garage doors and the walk-in door were open. The bird stayed near the ceiling and wouldn't drop down to find a door. By the time we walked down to their house, Ron had herded the bird into a corner where she had nowhere to land, and when she tired from flying he caught her by hand. He carried the bird outside and laid her on a leaf on a shrub. The Hummingbird just lay there for about 10 minutes looking around and blinking but not trying to fly. Then, once she caught her breath and regained some energy she flew off into a high tree. She can now tell her friends about the giant human monsters that saved her life.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Various sightings

 Posted by PicasaI was just thinking recently about some to the wildlife sightings that we have seen here on the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Tennessee since we moved here last October.

When you consider the list you might think that we live isolated, out in the countryside. But Fairfield Glade is a pretty fair sized community with stores, restaurants, offices, and a population that I think I heard is approximately 6,500. However, we are surrounded by forest and bordered by the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area (similar to a "State Game Lands" in Pennsylvania). Wildlife is everywhere.

We have the regular assortment of animals that might live in most communities in many states such as raccoons, squirrels, groundhogs, hummingbirds, finches, garter snakes, toads, etc. But we also have an assortment of birds, reptiles, and mammals that would be very rare in many suburban communities.

Here is a list of a few of the wild things that Nancy or I have seen and then 4 animals that we are still looking for.

We have seen Pileated Woodpeckers (photo above) on the Hickory tree in our backyard, Downey, Hairy, Red-bellied, and Red-headed woodpeckers, Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Cooper Hawks, many, many Gold Finches, Tufted Titmice, and many other, new to us, birdfeeder kinda birds.

We have heard from our back deck, Barred Owls, Screech Owls, and Great-Horned Owls. We see Wild Turkey several times each week.

There are several kinds of lizards that I haven't yet identified in the yard.

I have seen (mostly dead on the road) Copperhead, Blacksnake, Corn Snake, Water snake, Blue Racer. I have seen several (some very large) Snapping Turtles in streams and ponds and 6 or 7, at last count, Box Turtles.

Nancy and I have seen both Red and Grey Fox and 2 Coyotes. We hear the coyotes howling at night or in the early morning regularly. Just last week I saw a Bobcat chasing a Grey Squirrel up a dead pine tree (the squirrel got away). I saw a Mink working its way up a small stream near the golf course a couple of weeks ago.

We haven't yet seen one, but I have talked to others in the area who have seen the Wild Boars that roam nearby and root up the golf courses from time to time. Also, I am still looking for Otters, Fishers, and Rattlesnakes that are around. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has re-established an Elk herd in the next county over and about once a year someone claims to spot a Black Bear in our county.

If you like wildlife, this is the place.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Snakes....don't you just love 'em.

As my friend Tom back in Texas says "every snake seen on land is identified as a Copperhead or a Rattlesnake, and every snake seen in or near the water is identified as a Water Moccasin". He isn't far off the truth. So far in Fairfield Glade, anyone that I have talked to that has seen a snake says that it was a Copperhead. Yes, there are Copperheads here, but there are also many non-poisonous snakes.

For example, the beautiful snake in the first picture is a young Eastern Milksnake. Obviously the picture is not the whole snake, it is only the undamaged portion. Unfortunately it was run over on the road a couple of hundred yards from our house. Milksnakes are non-poisonous and beneficial. But I would bet that fewer than one in one hundred people who saw this snake on the road knew what it was. I'll bet most people would have called this a Copperhead.

Two days after this picture was taken there was a dead Blacksnake on the same road within a hundred yards of the corn snake. It was about 4 1/2 feet long. I didn't have my camera and when I returned, it was gone. Probably the crows got it.

Last Friday while playing golf, I stepped onto a rock in a stream and another non-poisonous snake, a water snake, caused me a little adrenalin spike as it slipped into the water from the same rock that I was on. The snake probably had a little adrenalin spike also.

There are Timber Rattlesnakes in our area, although someone I know at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says they are very rarely seen. But there are some around because the workers killed one a few houses away from my house last fall. Rattlesnakes are kind of hard to misidentify because of the rattles on their tail.

Now, this snake is a real Copperhead. Again, unfortunately, this one was also dead. We found this snake on a Hiking Club trip along the trail. Someone hiking on the trail before us probably saw the snake and killed it. Copperheads are poisonous but they have less potent venom, shorter fangs, and smaller doses of poison than rattlesnakes. Copperhead bites are usually not even treated with anti-venom, although that shouldn't encourage you to pick one up because their bite will be very painful if venon is injected (it isn't always).

So before you kill that Copperhead that you see, remember that it might not even be a Copperhead. Also, even if it is, just leave it alone to control the rodents and frogs and such. Plus, it is illegal to kill a snake....probably a law that isn't often enforced, but it is illegal.

By the way, I read somewhere that most snake bites involve two variables.....teen or older males.... and alcohol. Imagine that!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Turkey wrangling

Yesterday while Nancy and I were out for a walk around 2pm we heard a clucking in the woods next to the road. At first, we thought that maybe we spotted a quail. But once we got a better look we could see that it was a baby turkey and it was very very small.

Then we spotted mama Wild Turkey who was the one doing the clucking. Mama and babies were just inside the woods at the intersection of two roads. I told Nancy to go on up the other road and I would go into the woods and try to herd the mama and babies in her direction so she could get a good look at them all.

Well, mama turkey herded nicely right across the road in front of Nancy but the babies disappeared. They had scattered and then sat tight in the undergrowth. I slowly walked through the brush and spotted one or two of the little guys. But once mama realized that I wasn’t following her and that I was looking for the kids, she turned around and started clucking in earnest to round up the family. One by one the babies scooted through the brush and caught up with mama who by then was only about 30 feet from me clucking softly but steadily and showing no fear.

If I would have had my camera I would have been able to get some good shots because the turkeys were all very close to me. Instead, I found this photo on Google Images so you could get an idea of what we saw.

Today in the car, about a mile away we saw another mama turkey and some babies….very small, just like the first bunch. Then when we continued driving up the road to the area near our house where we saw the first turkey, there she was again at the side of the road with her brood. This seems to be hatching time.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Talking to a Barred Owl

Last evening about 10pm I stepped out on the deck to listen to what was going on in the woods at night. Often it is very very quiet. But sometimes a whip-poor-will or two will be calling. When in top form, they can say "whip-poor-will" non-stop for hours or for several minutes before flying to another spot and starting up again.

Last night the tree frogs were singing everywhere. A week ago we didn't hear any. But far away down in the valley I heard another sound. It was only one note but I recognized the voice from nights of camping in Oklahoma for fly fishing. It was a Barred Owl.

Barred owls are very large, over 20 inches tall, and almost the same size as Great Horned Owls. We have heard Great Horned Owls from our deck several times. They have a low, soft, hoohoohoo hoohoohoo hoo. Barred Owls, on the other hand, have a very loud, higher pitched, "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" sound.

I only heard one note, not the whole "who cooks for you" sound, but I knew immediately that it was a Barred Owl. I went to the closet and got out my tape of a Barred Owl (doesn't everyone have one of these?) Two Barred Owls began answering my tape with their whole repertoire of sounds. I would play one call and then mute the tape and wait for the answers. The owls moved closer. After a while they were in the two largest trees nearest our house and calling loudly in a three-way contest...owl #1, owl #2, and me on the tape player...each calling in turn. We turned the spotlights on in the backyard and the owls stayed in the trees calling. We saw them flying to another tree and back a couple of times. We played this game for about 30 minutes until the owls begin to tire of the fun. If any of the neighbors heard any of this action, now you know who was making all the noise. Tonight we may try for Screech Owls.

Friday, July 07, 2006

New neigborhood sign

This picture is probably not too exciting unless you live here....and it is really not too exciting even then. This is the new sign at the entrance to our neighborhood that was just installed about a month ago. It is kind of cute with all of the colors and the mountains, the trees, and the setting sun. I like it!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Identify this rock.

For those of you who saw me sitting in my front yard the other evening and staring at a rock for 20 minutes....I have not gone over the edge....yet. I was trying to wait for an Eastern Box Turtle to emerge from his shell so I could get a picture.

Box turtles have a hinged plastron (bottom shell) and they can retreat completely inside their shell and close up tight when threatened.
When I picked up this one in a berry patch he retreated inside and wouldn't come out for a picture.

If you look closely on the right side you can just see his nose beginning to poke out. That is as far as he would come out for a picture. At least you can see the beautiful camouflage pattern of his shell.

Box turtles supposedly live up to 80 years in the wild. This is the 5th one that I have seen this summer. An hour after this picture he was long gone ... probably looking for the next blackberry patch for dinner.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wild Blueberries and wild Blackberries

It is kinda cool to be able to walk into your backyard and pick fresh wild blueberries and take them right from the woods to your cereal. But I must admit that they are much smaller than the ones at Krogers and not quite as good. I thought that I remembered from years past that "Huckleberries", as wild blueberries seem to be called, were much sweeter than the store bought ones - but these aren't. It is the "wild" and "free" part that makes them taste good.
The blackberries just started to ripen in the last few days. They are not in the backyard but they are within a 5 minute walk of our house. There are more of them and they are much bigger than the blueberries. Too bad I don't like them as much.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Deer fawn.

Although we have lots of deer here in Fairfield Glade, this picture is not from the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. It is from Aurora Ohio. This is our granddaughter Marissa with a white tailed deer fawn that showed up in her neighborhood. The deer walked through yards and even walked up onto Marissa's front porch. It is very rare for a deer fawn to show little fear of humans like this one. It is probably (hopefully) just temporarily separated from its mother. After following the neighborhood kids around for awhile it scampered back into the woods. This was such a cute (and rare) picture that I couldn't resist posting it.