Wednesday, October 3
Due to fly out of Asheville much later in the evening, we had one final day to spend in the Smokies. Even with the camping luxuries of a swank hotel room and hot breakfast buffet, we still managed to get ourselves going fairly early in the morning.
Morning balcony vista, Roughing it at the luxury breakfast buffet.
Roaring Forks Motor Trail was the last “must-see” element of the Park on our list. Conveniently, the entrance to this section of the park was right down the street from the hotel. As we drove toward Roaring Forks through a wooded area, we spotted a bear in the woods. No sooner had we seen one, than there were suddenly bears everywhere. We counted about 7 or 8 individuals. Unfortunately, the light was so dim in the woods that we didn’t get many pictures. It was still pretty great to finally see some of the Smokies most famous residents up close[i].
When the jam of cars stopped to watch the bears finally eased up, we continued on to Roaring Forks. The morning was still pretty overcast and misty. While this gave a mysterious and appealing quality to the forest, it pretty much killed the scenic overviews. This was just not going to be our scenic vista trip. The motor trail was a pleasant, if fairly uneventful, couple miles of auto cruising past a few historic buildings, but mostly just foggy woods. About halfway through the loop, we stopped to hike the ~3.5 mile round trip Grotto Falls trail. The trail was a pleasant surprise, even though it was already crowded early in the morning. Foliage along the way was more colorful than other sections of the Park, and the hike included a goodly stretch in which one hikes alongside a creekbed with multiple waterfalls. The “payoff”[ii] for the hike was a pretty decent sized waterfall one could walk behind. It cascaded down into a pool which fed several subordinate waterfalls. It would have been even better if it wasn’t for the endless line of tourists waiting to take their picture under/behind the waterfall. It was very inconvenient to have to wait for them in order to take our picture under/behind the waterfall[iii]…
Sun and Leaves (faux infrared), Misty Morning, Grotto Falls trail waterfall, Hollow and Leaf, Waterfall, Grotto Falls Waterfall, Waterfall Cliff, Grotto Falls Streambed, Log and Leaves, Lower Grotto Falls, Grotto Falls, Grotto Falls (B&W), Kate and I at the Falls, Grotto Falls Again, Oh look it’s Grotto Falls yet again.
We hung around for a little, and Kate even found a salamander among the rocks, before we started making our way back down the trail. I guess one could say it was fortunate that this was the last hike of the last day. Partially because it was one of the more interesting hikes we’d done there, but also because about a half mile from the parking lot, carrying a massive camera and tripod combination, I stepped hard on the wrong side of a root, and rolled straight on to my ankle with a statisfying crunch. I found myself in the odd position of wanting to drop and roll immediately, and also wanting to hand off the aforementioned camera gear. Luckily, Kate was quick on the draw, and grabbed my tripod when she heard me grunt/squeal/yawp. When I regained composure, I had to apologize to the family with small children who had been walking behind us, as I couldn’t recall whether any choice curse words had left my mouth when it happened. Luckily they confirmed I just “sort of grunted”. Kate rushed down the trail to get our hiking poles while I limped my way down.
Even with the ankle issue, the rest of the motor loop was pleasant. We ate an al fresco picnic lunch at a historical cabin site, stopped at yet another mill[iv], and then drove on out through Gatlinburg to the Foothills Parkway and on to Asheville.
Pioneer Cabins, Longtail Skipper, Lunch!, Corner, Cabin Hatch, Fenceline, Rough-hewn Boards, Window View, Mill Conveyance, Shower, Foothills Parkway Vista
We grabbed another helping of NC BBQ at the airport on the way out, accompanied by a flight of local beers for my palate and a bag of ice for my ankle; a somewhat mixed way to end a pretty great trip.
Beer Flight before the Flight, Asheville Skies from Airport Window
[i] From the safety of a car as opposed to a nose under a tent flap, of course.
[ii] My disdain for this term in hiking literature is my general dislike of the destination hiker mentality. Yes, there are some hikes where there is a major destination. But when I’m hiking, I’m enjoying the stuff along the way. I know a lot of folks who just powerwalk to the destination, snap a picture, then powerwalk back. I’m not that kind of hiker. Different strokes, I suppose, but I always get caught up in all the cool stuff along the way. Yes, there may be a waterfall at the end, but there’s a Fowler’s Toad/Varied Thrush/stand of maple trees right here!
[iii] Oops. “Part of the problem” moment there.
[iv] Every picture Id ever seen of the Smokies involved either overlapping ridges, historic mills, waterfalls, or boulder strewn streams. We missed out on the former for the most part, but had the latter three in spades.