Thursday, March 29, 2012

Great Smokey Mountains National Park

After our week on the Outer Banks we headed for the Great Smokey Mountains. It is one of our favorite places to hike and fish so we try to stop there whenever we are in the area. This trip we were able to spend a relaxing six days camped in the small town of Townsend and make the daily five mile trip into the park. We usually like to camp in one of the park campgrounds but we are having some unknown difficulties with our battery system so we choose to stay where electric power was available.

We had the great luck of choosing a campground right on the Little River. The highly ranked trout fishing river runs through the park and down into the town of Townsend, where there are some strategically placed locations to park a camper.

Sites back right up to the river with access paths to the water

Marlin could roll out of bed, jump into his waders and head for the stream. He also took advantage of the location after we returned from a day in the park.

From Townsend, Little River road follows the river for about 15 miles up to Elkmont Campground, where you have to enter the campground road in order to stay with this stream. Just before reaching Elkmont turnoff you pass "The Sinks", which is a spot where the river turns sharply and tumbles over several narrow falls. It is quite loud and spectacular. Lots of signs indicating "Danger". Appears many swimmers do not use common sense and have gotten trapped under ledges by the strength of the water flow.

Views along the Little River road.

Run off flowing into the river

Before the creation of Smokey National Park, Little River Lumber Company operated a camp near the current Elkmont campground. At some point the lumber company sold land near this logging town to individuals to create a private social club. It soon developed into the Appalachian Club, a place where Knoxville families built cabins and came to escape the summer heat.

During the 1920's and 30's North Carolina and Tennessee began acquiring land that would eventually become The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Farms and homesteads were purchased outright. However, club members negotiated lesser payments on their property for the right to a lifetime lease on their cabins. Most of these arrangements expired in 1992, with one lasting until 2001.

Originally the park planned to remove all the buildings and allow the land to return to nature. However, in 1994 the town of Elkmont was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which affords the district special status. Currently the park is working to stabilize 19 of the buildings. Work will include pruning vegetation, water proofing, roofing and flooring, which will help preserve these structures until future restoration can be finished. Currently, the renovations of the Appalachian Club building are complete.

It is slightly eerie walking down the streets today, past walkways and entry archway that go nowhere or into overgrown yards in front of dilapidated buildings.

The newly renovated Appalachian Club House.

One of the hikes that I took while Marlin fished was the Cucumber Gap trail. This 5 mile loop began by following the Little River for a couple of miles then turned away from the stream into a forest of tulip trees. Along the edges of this part of the trail were dozens of wild flowers. I did get a bit carried away taking pictures but could not stop snapping shots of the plants because they were so plentiful and beautiful.

Cucumber Gap trail

White fringed phacellia blooms thick and low in some places along the edges of the trail

Close up the edges of these delicate flowers looks lacy

Fraser's sedge has blooms that look a bit like cotton grass but the leathery leaves are quite different

The wildflower book described the bushy top of the bloom as male and the rounder lower section of the flower as the female part. Interesting!

Had lunch beside this rock fall, then took a dozen pictures.

Love it.

On another day I hiked Jake's Creek Trail. Near the lower end of the trail where Jake's Creek flows into the Little River, there is an old abandoned cabin that looked inviting even with a tree poking through the roof.

This trail climbed up through a gap an eventually joined the Application Trail. I did not go that far but it was a beautiful trail. More Fraser's sedge.

I needed my friend Dick Andren to help me identify this blue beauty. It was not in my book

May Apple

This Partridge berry made a lush ground cover. The leaves were about a big as my thumb nail. From what I read, the red berry is from last year. Sometimes it can be found with this years flower, which is two tiny white blooms, the new fruit, and the previous years berry.

Creeping phlox

Jake's Creek is a constant run of falling water. No matter where you choose to stop, there is water running over boulders into crystal clear pools. Often if you watch closely you can see the fish darting after bugs. (or dry flies on the end of a rod)

Yellow Trillium. I love the variegated leaves on this unusual trillium.

A patch of yellow Trilliam

White Trillium

Trout Lilly

A patch of yellow halberd leaved violets and rue anemone poking out from a rotting log.

It was a wonderful week full of the things we both love best. I got to hike in the woods and Marlin go to do lots of fishing for trout in magnificent mountain streams. We could have easily stayed another week but we were off to Shiloh, Tennessee to meet Marlin's nephew Mike, and see a Civil War reenactment where he will be part of the Union forces.

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