Saturday, April 21, 2007

Caving near Grassy Cove

What a beautiful day we had on Saturday!

One day earlier in the week, Gary called and said that he heard about a land dedication event on Saturday and wanted to know if I wanted to go. The event was to thank 2 landowners who donated a total of 350 acres on Brady Mountain for the Cumberland Trail. We wanted to attend because, after the speeches, a Tennessee Parks Ranger was going to lead a hike to, and into, a cave.

So Gary, Ray, and I headed off. We didn't know what to expect. Gary volunteers often on the Cumberland Trail and he is a member of the Tennessee Trails Association. We figured that there would be some TTA members and maybe some local government officials. We heard that there would be some food. We didn't know if there would be 6 or 60 people there.

The event was held in Grassy Cove. Grassy Cove is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. It is 3 miles by 8 miles in size and consists of beautiful green fields, horses, farms and a few scattered homes. The valley is and always has been owned by one extended family. The picture above is an example of what the whole valley looks like.

Believe it or not, the dedication event was fantastic. First of all, there were about 200 people there....not usually my kind of event. But, at one point, Gary, Ray and I looked at each other and said, "does it get any better than this?". There we were in a beautiful outdoor setting, surrounded by mountains, listening to a local mountain music band, eating freshly cooked and baked food from the local people, and drinking, wine, Guinness, and Sam Adams....all for free. We determined that no one in Grassy Cove ever had a problem with stress.

After about an hour of speeches, music, beer and food we followed a Ranger about a half mile through the woods to Saltpeter Cave. This cave was used during the Civil War to mine saltpeter which is a key component of gunpowder. I am not sure if it was used by the North or the South, since although Tennessee was part of the Confederate States, eastern Tennessee was mostly in support of the Union.

We had to squeeze through the very small opening to the cave. But once inside it opened up into several very large high rooms. We followed the Ranger a couple of hundred yards through several passages and rooms in the cave. Although it was 75 degrees outside, it was only about 55 inside.
The picture to the left is in the first big room looking back toward the opening. Above the heads you can see the light from the small opening. The flash from the camera lit up this scene, but without the flash it was obviously very dark with only flashlights lighting a small area in front of each person. Notice the unnamed person in the white hard hat (could that be Ray?) wearing sunglasses inside the cave. For 20 minutes he thought that his flashlight was about out of batteries until someone happened to shine their light on him and see the sunglasses. Dang, these caves are dark!

Well that was the Saturday entertainment in Grassy Cove and Saltpeter Cave. What started out as an unknown turned into a pretty darn nice time.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Beautiful Smoky Mountains

Anytime we head east, I can't wait until the Smoky Mountains come into view. It makes me smile the second I see them in the distance.

Nancy and I went to Gatlinburg last Saturday to stay overnight and then to go to an outdoor Easter Sunrise service at the top of Ober Gatlinburg, the ski mountain. There was a free Tram (cable car) ride from downtown to the ski area for the service which started at 6:30 am. It was dark and cold (about 25 degrees) but we wore our ski jackets and pants and were quite toasty. The sun came up behind the mountains as the service progressed. It was a very nice way to celebrate Easter, and I would guess we will do it again.

There is nothing more beautiful than being in the mountains and the Smoky Mountains are a real gem. After the Easter service we drove the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and then up to Newfound Gap and to Clingman's Dome. There was snow from Newfound Gap on up, but sunny and not too cold.

We continued on to Cades Cove for a 5 mile hike to Abrams Falls and back. Cades Cove is at a relatively low elevation and everything was green and snow free. We hiked with fleece vests but no jackets.

I have an interesting little story that happened on the hike. About an hour into the 2-3 hour hike I realized that I had left my $350 GPS on top on the car roof in the gravel parking lot with about 30 cars and many people around. After calmly saying "stupid, stupid, stupid" out loud I had nothing to do at that point but continue on the hike. A few minutes later we met a couple on the trail heading back toward the parking lot, an hour away. I asked the man that if my GPS was by any chance still on the roof top if he would place it under my car by the rear wheel to put it out of sight. When we returned to the car almost 2 hours after that there was a note on my windshield. It read "Check before driving off". Under my car was my GPS, still on. Believe it or not, I really had a positive feeling that it would be there. It is enough to restore your faith in human goodness.
If you haven't visited the Smoky Mountains recently, get there soon. Try to avoid July & August (prime vacation time), and October (leaf peepers) if you want to miss the most crowded times. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has no entrance fee and no commercialization. Gatlinburg is a tourist zoo, but the National Park is all natural. The park is great for hiking, fishing, wildlife spotting, or even just listening to the sounds. We just wish it was 30 minutes away instead of 90. That way we could visit more often and we could smile at those mountains every day.