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Archive for the ‘Hike’ Category

When I was invited by an old friend to spend the day in Grandfather Park and State Park, I didn’t hesitate. I had not been to the Private park side of the mountain in at least 15 years. The day was exceptionally calm for this mountain that can funnel 200+ mph winds over its peak. The atmosphere was clear but not exceptionally so. The conversation on the way up was lively and continuous. After the various and many explanations of rules and restrictions, we headed up the steep, winding entry road. The first overlook greets you with the mountaintop vista and a teasing of the ridges that will be seen when you get higher up.

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After conversation with the parking and trail attendants, we excitedly started up the trail. The first small peak allowed a view of McCrae Peak that was framed by a spruce and fir.

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McCrae Peak

The topography, geography, and geology of this place is fascinating and somewhat extreme. There is much metamorphic rock in this area with splatterings of igneous intrusions. Don’t let the signs fool you. This is a Flood remnant from a few thousand years ago with extreme upheavals and collapses opening fissures, grinding formations, and recrystallization of minerals. Under one severely overhung outcropping at the base of the large ladder on the Underwood Trail, are stones and cobbles seemingly glued into the cliff face. Normally I would declare this to be a conglomerate, a sedimentary rock made of cemented sediments of rounded rocks. And that may yet be true, but the cement is metamorphic, gneiss and such. Was it originally sedimentary rock metamophized by the pressure of the upheavals or was it stones that fell into or were forced alongside a magma inclusion that metamorphized the cement? Either way the process was extreme.

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Tiny quartz crystals “glued” onto metamorphized quartzite and feldspar

I did not know until this time that the ladders and all but 1/4 mile of the trail are in the State Park. Except for the huge boulder which is McCrae Peak, I feel confident that there is an easier way up, but the ladders give their climbers understanding of the starkness of the topography. 

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Chutes and Ladders

There is one point along the trail where you are coming to a knife edge of the ridge. Because of the prevailing winds, you may turn this corner and come into the full blast of the wind. This day pictures me with my new friend at that turn, on a calm, sunny day. One time in the past, I was fully surprised by the calmness and reasonable temperatures on an Autumn day only to be rudely awakened by the blowing snow, frosted heather, and fierce winds and chill factor at this very turn.

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A bright day and a new friend

It is amazing how few people have been seriously injured or killed over the years of hiking these trails. Below is a segment of the marked trail that causes one to step cautiously.

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The reflection in the pool of water in the next picture is deceiving, leading one to believe there is a hole in the rock. Actually, the picture was taken to show the Junco bird picking up a bread crumb. These hardy little birds can be seen and heard flitting around on the hottest summer days and coldest winter gales at high elevations.

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The very peak of the mountain at right is one in a series of large boulders that sits on top. The cutting edge of the ridge seems to have been thrust up over the western, American plate.

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There really is no other way up to the peak other than the ladder, unless you wanted to do some real bouldering. The drop is probably 75+ feet off of the back.

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McCrae’s Peak ladder

May 14th and Spring is only beginning to peak its head through the rhododendron leaf litter. I do wonder what the other green leaves are since there were many more of these than fiddleheads.

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Fiddleheads

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Hobble Bush (Viburnum lantanoides) new vegetation

I took many more pictures of the bridge area, but this one taken by a trail attendant best communicates the joy of reopening day. We went past McCrae Peak up through the Attic Window to look back to the McCrae Peak and the bridge beyond. It was a strenuous, talkative, view intensive hike.

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Indeed, this blog entry is cut short, because I could not upload another picture. Now I must decide what to do, because my picture storage for the blog is full. Do I upgrade for a service that I have been thankful to use free thus far? Will deleting old entries free up space for new entries? Is there value in retaining old entries for the occasional reference value to things I have written? How valuable is this blog to me and to those few who regularly follow it and those who occasionally visit? What journal value does it have for me and my posterity? What spiritual value does it have to communicate my journey and God’s goodness, graciousness, power, creativity, and holiness? I will have to weigh these questions against other priorities. For the time being, I am grateful to have had this outlet for my thoughts, thanksgivings, teachings, and creative trice.

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My son, his wife, a friend, and I went hiking in the Gorge last Friday. The temperature was perfect, the skies were deep blue, the wildflowers popping and beautiful, the conversation enjoyable, and the hiking strenuous. We went down by way of the Sandy Flats Trail which is on maps but no longer marked or maintained. In places the trail was easy to follow, but in others downed trees and shifting creek obscured any remnant. It was always extremely steep with actual rock scrambles in several places. I am glad that we went in this way instead of coming out this way, because we would have been discouraged when tired. Instead, it was an adventure with many undisturbed spots for wildflowers and jutting rock outcroppings.

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Steep descent via Sandy Flats Trail next to Wiseman’s View

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Newlyweds on a jaunt in the woods

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Crazy Friend

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Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia)

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Wake-robin Trillium (Trillium erectum)

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Showy Orchis (Gelaris spectablis)

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expanding tree Shelf Fungus (or Bracket Fungus; Polypore)

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Linville River

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Sandy Flats?

Next, we turned up gorge toward Babel Tower. My son felt like the Sun would beat us to our destination, so he set out on a fast pace. With taking pictures here and there, I had the hardest time keeping up. The Gorge is so narrow down by the river that at times you are only a few yards horizontal from the river but 1 to 2 hundred feet above it.

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Trail on the Edge

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Notice the rounded cut outs in the far bank from flood scouring.

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Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

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Tower opposing Babel Tower

I am beyond frustrated with the autofocus. In one attempt, I even tried to put a large leaf in the immediate background to force the nearer focus and it still chose 1/5 of the field of view and focussed further away. But I did record a flower that I have not seen often. I saw several of these plants as we went along.

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Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) with violets below

Perhaps the most classic and beautiful view of the Gorge is from Babel Tower toward Hawksbill, Table Rock, Little Table Rock, and Chimneys:

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From Babel Tower downstream

The river goes around three sides of the rock outcropping called Babel Tower. A wide angle lens could record in 30 degrees of field of view the upstream and downstream river flowing at an angle about 60 degrees downward. This is extreme topography.

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radical descent

It is always good to have someone to share the journey and the view with, whether the day be pleasant or strenuous, or both.

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And to think, God is pleased to share the journey and the beauty with us and one day bring us to dwell with Him for eternity.

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In normal times “Out and About” sounds like a pretty lackadaisical pursuit of nothing in particular. But in these days of shutdown and stay at home orders, it sounds edgy and adventuresome. The beautiful days cry out for you to come outdoors. The first few pictures show flowers my wife and I found on our greenway walk.

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Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina)

This species is so very common in Western North Carolina and so unknown where I grew up in East Tennessee. The mountains are quite the barrier for some things. They are also not to be confused with Mountain Silverbell (Halesia monticola) which I mention in a recent blog about hiking on the Tennessee side of the Smoky’s (“A Brief Brush with Winter“).

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Common bloom in these parts

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With my wife on the end of the Bridge over the River

I didn’t purposefully play with the focus this way, and in fact, it is one of the main frustrations I have with automatic focus. But the result of framing my wife in the background on the greenway did turn out nice. If I had done it on purpose, I would have framed her in the space just below the small branch that bisects her in the picture. That would have been a very nice shot, which I could have cropped to include a little branch, leaf, and bloom around her on the path.

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Unintentional cool effect

My son asked why the lawnmower was parked on the carport. I said that I was trying it out to consider buying it, but then it quit. After a quick wolfing down his lunch, he offered to look at it. He figured out what was wrong in ten minutes. After work he came back and fixed the fuel pump without any need of parts. I have been impressed with how fast he has picked up on “mechanicing” since starting at the local independent Toyota repair shop.

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Lunchtime mechanic

Another day I needed to go across the mountain to pick up whole food supplements. I took a quick stop to hike a short section of the AT. I saw no one and was informed afterward by a neighbor that it was closed down. This is getting ridiculous. Largely Yellow Poplar stands are not common in WNC, but they are in ETN. I believe the difference is soil and rainfall. There is a slight rain shadow effect from the mountains so that the average yearly rainfall is typically about 10 more inches per year in ETN.

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Yellow Poplar stand in E TN

Yet another day I needed to feed the fish and water the plants in my classroom. Since we are told to not come to the school, if at all possible, I had to take my temperature upon entering. I brought the plants home and a secretary said she would feed the fish. This room has been my classroom for 11 of 13 years at this school. It feels a little like home away from home.

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My forlorn classroom

Exceptionally pleasant temperatures and blue skies have been the rule of late. I hope we neither have drought nor crazy storms at the end of it. I have been making actual but slow progress in my running lately. When you are coming back from sickness and injury it is hard to tell how much is attributable to your present physical condition and how much to excuse by being old. I am trying to make no excuses and have no high expectations. I am thankful that I can make any come back.

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At the end of my run

Today my youngest son called and asked if I would like to go for a hike. I had responsibilities at the beginning of the day, so we opted for a short jaunt in the woods. I honestly do not understand the mentality of closing trails. It further crowds the one not closed. Is that what someone wants so that there is an opportunity to close all trails and control people? It is beginning to feel that way. Why not rather let people make their own decisions about such things, warning them of the consequences, informing them about best practices, and limiting only the most obvious dangers. That is the way of freedom. Our founding fathers understood that we should trust the populace over the ruling class. We have reversed that and we will one day regret it. Thankfully on this day, the trail we had chosen was not shut down. We came in from a less traveled route and avoided all the more passes on the trail. I did not meet one person of the two dozen or so that did not make and succeed at social distancing.

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Ominous sign

The view just off one overlook we lounged on was curious to me. In the valley, Spring has sprung. Here is has only just begun. Notice the unshod trees on the slope behind. The foreground tree (birch perhaps) is just beginning to open blooms. And just beyond is a fir tree. There were a dozen or so surrounding the base of this crag. They were odd because they don’t usually occur at such low elevation (no more than 3000′ at best) and they are totally healthy when almost all others are infected or dead from aphid. I mused to my son that here was an isolated, small stand of Balsam Fir on a north slope under a shading crag where there was plenty of moisture (protection from wind, I might add) and distance from other infected trees. Long may they prosper.

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Spring barely begun

Look directly across from my nose, about 7/8 across the picture, to just past the slope down into the gorge and above the main body of cliffs. You can just see Babel Tower, a very worthwhile hike and view (Check out “Reminiscing Romp”.)

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Most pleasant day to be out

The climbing area at Hawksbill is a little intimidating upon approach. There is some good climbing here and some hard climbing. I hope to be climbing here again one day soon.

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Middle Hawksbill

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a mini-ecosystem

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The Gorge laid out before us

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view over to Wiseman’s View

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Roan Mtn and Hump Mtn

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Gingercake and Grandfather

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Enjoyable time with my son

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From Hawksbill across Wiseman’s View into North Cove with the Black Mtns (Mt. Mitchell) beyond

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Pitch Pine rather than Table Mtn Pine

I was reading another blog earlier today that suggested that spiritual life is better than physical life. The point was being made to focus on the more important one. I took the point, but took exception with the implied undercurrents. Our lives are not divided. All things have spiritual ramifications, including giving too much attention to your temporal life. But our physical life is not evil in and of itself as the Gnostics were apt to say. Instead, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) Enjoy God’s good gift of a good day but don’t live for it. Acknowledge His work in your life and live for Him, rather than take credit for it or sweat your way through making your own way. He is both pleased and you benefit from the mundane and extraordinary lived out for Him.

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I love to observe the beauties of nature. Some of the following pictures are from before the pandemic and many are part of my coping mechanism since it has started. The first picture shows algae with what I believe to be a brown spore case. If I am wrong, I wish some algae expert would set me straight.

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Algae under a microscope

Cameras can be deceptive. The pizza place was actually rather dim with little points of light. We enjoyed the cauliflower crust pizza with organic toppings of veggies and cheese.

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

It is convenient that my son has several downed trees in his side yard that I have cut off of a few times. I had never been so low on wood, oh, except for the time many years ago when I had been sick for several months and nearly ran out. At that time a friend felt sorry for me and brought some wood. The present wood is dry and off the ground with very little rot. The day was pleasantly cool for work.

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A little more wood needed

I gave one of my 9 year old Sunday School students an adult coloring book. The next Sunday she showed me the following:

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Sunday School student’s art

A mobile lab comes to our school each semester to do a DNA Electrophoresis Lab with our Biology students. It is a very effective use of their time.

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

A friend of ours from Bible School days came by to visit. She is retiring from many years of missionary work in the Philippians. It has been a privilege to be in contact with her all of these years, following what God has been doing with and through her.

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A friend and missionary

All of the previous pictures were pre-pandemic. The following ones are various fresh air excursions since warning to keep apart from others. The trillium are going wild in a little triangle of woods about 1/2 mile from my house where I frequently walk.

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

I like the beauty of my own yard in Spring as well.

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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Just a week before the restrictive stay at home orders came, my daughter and two grandchildren came to visit.

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He can look so serious

Only 3/4 of a mile from the house is a small waterfall in a draw (small vale or notch for those of you from a different neck of the woods) surrounded by wooded suburbia.

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Neighborhood waterfall

We hiked one day to a much larger waterfall. It is a short but steep walk, which I would have thought nothing of had it not been for the little ones to help along. We have had so much rain lately that the ground keeps giving water.

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

I can’t paint a still life, but I can appreciate one.

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

When my daughter went home, my granddaughter wanted to stay. We did several fun and relationship building things. When we went to the climbing gym I told her to watch me climb at first, knowing that she takes time to warm up to things. After about 45 minutes of following me around, she asked if she could have some climbing shoes. She was really quite good.

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

My wife is a wonderful cook. The only problem is her food doesn’t last long around our house with me there.

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

On the way back from a doctor across the state line, I decided to stop for a leg stretcher. In warm weather it is one of the best and most crowded swimming holes.

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

Two more backyard blooms and a small neck of the woods trillium follow:

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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There is little for perspective, but this huge, perhaps 12″+ in diameter.

At 5 PM on this very day, they were closing down many outdoor venues, specifically including climbing areas. I went and got in a quick session since both gyms and crags are closed for the foreseeable future. So much time to go and so little availability.

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel
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Bloodroot

Having not been outside much to climb lately, I was mostly shutdown by problems that I could previously do. I enjoy climbing for the mental and physical aspects. I needed some success before I went home and this is a good boulder for it.

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

I bought this ground cover only last Spring and it is covering the ground!

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Verbana sp.
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Red Dogwood

I don’t know why it is named after a snake, but the vividness and pattern of the white lines on the leaves are fascinating:

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

Many trees can be identified to the species by how they are shaped. Even sometimes their reaction to heavy pruning still comes out identifiable. One bright blue day I took pictures of 8 or 10 treeforms. I won’t bore you with the lot of them but the general idea is there.

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Spruce treeform

If you know what fractals are, then you will see why I mention them before the white oak tree picture.

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Oak treeform

To end this random array of flower arrangements and outdoor excursions and such I give you one more flower that grows by my backyard shed. Enjoy what little joys and beauties you are afforded. They help you deal with the sad and ugly moments of life. They are gifts from a gracious Father who loves beauty and blessing.

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Star of Bethlehem

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My last post was about my third son’s wedding. You can see the pictures by clicking here or scroll down. This blog entry is a little commentary on stops along the way there and back.

On our way through Knoxville, we stopped to drop off some children’s clothes and baby equipment that Mamaw had gathered from the consignment sale. I got to meet and hold my seventh and newest grandchild. 

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Newest Grandbaby

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1st 2nd granddaughter

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Yawns mean mom will get a break

We had a few minutes with the other grandchildren. May God bless, protect, and know them.

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with Big Sister

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My son’s former roommate and friend came along, too. He is good with children. As you can see, there was a one-sided water balloon fight.

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Water Balloon prep

All things Scottish are greatly admired by my oldest son’s family.

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Scottish watch soldier

The masked man next to the little guy was said to be wearing a cape and carrying a dear over his shoulder. Robin Hood stands between him and Maid Marian.

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With the artists

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The missing, shy, sleepy brother arose from a nap just before we left.

The following pictures were taken on the trip home. I told my partner that I wanted to stop somewhere along the line in order to stretch our legs. We left at 5:22 AM, as he reminded me several times. The sun rose in central Louisiana. Below is the Visitor’s Center in Jackson, MS.

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I-20 at Jackson, MS crossing of the Big Muddy

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Remembrance of darker days

The leg stretcher was a quick jaunt up the ridge to Neversink Pit in Jackson County, NE Alabama. The sign informed us that we needed a permit to even hike on the property. It is amazing what you can do from a cell phone these days. We filled out the permission slips and had approval is less than 10 minutes. I should have taken a picture of the map. It showed the squares of land that individuals bought to set aside this natural wonder.

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Interesting Preservation and Access

The wildflowers were popping all over.

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Fire Pink

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Limestone has the weirdest looking forms

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Not too close!

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Neversink Pit, AL

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My expert sister-in-law (in identifying wildflowers at least (couldn’t pass up the left-handed compliment, Sis)) assures me that it is Violet Wood Sorrel.

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162 foot pit

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Would love to rap it someday

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flint sandwiched in limestone

 

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Younger brother and oldest son

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No expense withheld

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In extravagant training facilities

The topics of conversation widely varied, though we are both science geeks. For example, we spent perhaps two hours on the way down reading and discussing the history of the development of longitude all because I made the comment, “I wander why they called it Meridian, MS?” We later found out that it stemmed from an argument two developers of the town had, but the discussion about longitude from 1541 to 1767 was interesting. If you are willing to explore and ask questions and be flexible, then the world has many wonders small and large to keep your interest. And we stayed well away from everyone else in the process. Social distancing is not all that bad.

 

 

 

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We haven’t had much of a winter this year. If it has reached the teens more than twice, I don’t remember it. But I went on a hike with one of my great nephews (in both senses). He had never been to Mt. Cammerer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I had never been there coming from Cosby Campground. It was 20 degrees when I left the house and the top of the mountain is about 4000 feet higher. I suspect from the reported low on a mountain of similar height closer to home that the Mt. Cammerer saw 15 or lower. It also snowed 1/2 inch, clinging to the branches and needles. It was still below freezing on the north slopes when we reached the top around 11:30, indicated by the hoar frost on the branches and ground frost columns in the bare spots. There was quite a chilling wind when we began, but when we arrived on top the air barely stirred and the sun warmed the rocks to a comfortable lounging temperature for lunch. We felt so good that I suggested that we consider going back another way that would add mileage- 3 miles by my estimate. I was wrong and the hike extended out to 16 miles total. The way back along Lower Cammerer Trail was an easy grade on smooth ground. We hiked at our own paces in places and together conversing at others. There was so much to clear the mind of stress and consider God’s goodness in our lives and in creating the world. I have yet to hear how my partner fared for soreness, but I had relatively little. It was an overall pleasant day.

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Beginning point in Cosby Campground

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Good flow from abundant rainfall

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Mid-sized Yellow Poplar

My sister-in-law gives an excellent explanation of how this frost forms (click here) and my great-nephew had a a better camera to capture the effect. I am always fascinated by how it elevates pebbles and flat rocks.

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Ground Frost

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Still Fresh

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Which way?

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Ground Frost

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Snow Line

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Main Ridge north of Low Gap toward Mt. Cammerer, GSMNP

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Still well below freezing on the north slopes

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Treetop and Beard Frost

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Took some wind to produce that

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Such intricate outline

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English Mountain in the background

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Good to see in a warm, snowless year

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Pleasant experience, good reminiscing

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Mt. Sterling! rain gauge?

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Restored Mt. Cammerer Firetower

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The next two pictures show how intense the short-lived snow shower must have been. It would have been an adventure, though not so fun, to have been at this location during the snowfall.

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Many names of mountains have changed. The benchmark says Sharp Top, but the internet says it used to be called White Top because of white rocks jutting out. Mt. Cammerer is the name given it after the early Park Commissioner who helped to secure the parklands.

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BM Sharp Top, 1928. Why do they rarely include the elevation?

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Pine tree on a south facing slope with limited soil

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The following two images I borrowed from my great-nephew’s site (with permission) to highlight the immensity of the scene and the smallness of us sojourners. John Piper says that we were made for something bigger than ourselves, meaning God. The proper response to the bigness and beauty of creation is worship of the Creator.

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I-40 and the Pigeon River

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Galax, lichen, and snow

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Time to head down

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has decimated Eastern Hemlocks in recent years. The Park Service treats some of the larger ones that are left. Evidently the treatment has to be repeated (For details click here.) to save the trees. Are the two paint marks two successive treatments?

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Treated Hemlock

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Treated Hemlock next to the untreated one

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Christmas Fern

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Barely over halfway point

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Seep

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Mountain Silverbell seedpod on oak leaves

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Cemetery

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The only marked stone and probably the newest at 1912.

Many of the draws showed more evidence of high flows than the black width of drainage way here.

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The high water must have been something.

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Cruising the easy way in a north facing woods with little underbrush.

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Was the bridge nearly toppled by high water or poorly set to begin with? Bridges across the wider streams are a welcome and easy passage.

With all of the amazing things that cameras can do, I am still amazed at what the eye does better. The following scene revealed 360 degrees of mist penetrating rays to the eye, but several attempts with the camera failed to show any of it. It does show how low the sun was. With the driving to and from home, the hike, and the time on top, I was gone from home for 13 1/2 hours. It was well worth it.

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Almost there

My sister-in-law helped me identify this little beauty on a short detour we took off of the main trail. After the late winter snow and cold up above, it was a surprising harbinger of Spring after a brief brush with winter.

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Trail detour Hepatica

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On our hike at Thanksgiving I challenged a great-nephew and niece to prepare for a backpacking trip next summer. Besides asking them to take regular brisk walks around their neighborhood, I offered to do day hikes building up to the overnight trip. Yesterday we went on the first of those trips: Sterling Gap to Mt. Sterling in the GSMNP. When they arrived at the meeting place, they had a cousin in tow. So the four of us enjoyed the strenuous 2 mile hill (~5.2 miles total) and the views from the ~50 feet fire tower. It was just cool enough to make walking comfortable and just overcast enough to make for better contrast in viewing distant peaks. We had interesting conversation and enjoyed the transition of the tree types as we increased in elevation. It’s time to get in shape for the next bigger hill!

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Waterville Hydroelectric Facility: Why does a hydroelectric facility have a chimney?

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The exit is in Tennessee but the hike is in North Carolina.

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Let do this!

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It simply is not 0.4 mile between the trail intersection and the tower at Campsite 38.

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Low elevation outliers

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Big outliers

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Spruce among decidies

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A great niece learning about Galax

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A break in the trees

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Incline

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Almost there

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Notice how it tappers, though you must know that perspective exaggerates the effect

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Mt S BM (Wow, 1928!)

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A camera with the proper filter would better catch what it really looked like with even more distant ridges appearing.

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NE more or less

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We made it. I wonder how any panes of glass survive in what must be a very windy site.

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Enjoying the view?

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Main ridge at Guyot to Cosby Knob

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Campsite 38

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Interesting perspective

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Do you see my great-nephew? Notice how perspective from here makes the tower appear straight-sided.

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After lunch relaxing

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Silly cousins!

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Can you tell which one is his sister?

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At the top and still smiling

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Survived many a storm and wind

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Black (or Wild) Cherry

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White Ash

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Beauty everywhere you look

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Almost down

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