Category: Hiking

Grayson Highlands State Park

Tuesday, October 18, 2021

Preparing for the trip to Grayson Highlands, I turned on the propane and started the refrigerator in the Airstream. Luckily, I went back for something and smelled smoke. Checking the refrigerator vent, I saw smoke coming out and quickly turned it off. I already have a leaking water tank – now what? A couple of hours later I turned it back on with the same result – smoking. OK, without fresh water or a refrigerator, what should we do? We decided to load the groceries in my big Pelican cooler and carry a case of bottled water. We might have been OK without water, because the campground has full hookups, but they have cut off the water at campsites due to drought.

I read up on a smoking refrigerator on Airforums, and there were several suggestions. One was to blow out the tube leading to the stack. Two – clean the stack by banging on it. Three – remove the refrigerator and clean the stack. Four – buy a new refrigerator for $1,500 – $2,000. Before leaving at 10:00, I blew out the tube with canned air. Three stink bugs came out. The refrigerator would not work on electric, so I opened the cover to the circuit board and removed 15 more stink bugs! Still wouldn’t work on electric, so I changed a small glass fuse. Still didn’t work on electric. I banged on the stack and more stink bugs fell out. I think the smoke was coming from roasted stink bugs. I then fired up the refrigerator on propane – no smoke 😀. I didn’t want to travel four hours with it on, so I turned it off and would fire it back up when we got there, keeping a close eye on it.

Description

Elevation: 3853 ft.

The extensive 4800-acre Grayson Highlands State Park provides any nature enthusiast premier wildlife watching potential within the mountain range home to Virginia’s highest peak, Mount Rogers. The park offers camping, picnicking, overnight horse stables, a visitor center, hiking trails, and access to the Appalachian Trail. The Rhododendron Trail can be accessed from Massie Gap in the park. Hiking along the summit of Wilburn Ridge can produce spectacular cliffside views. This trail connects to the Rhododendron Trail. The Rhododendron Trail then forks to lead into either the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail or the Appalachian Trail to Mt. Rogers (not accessible by horses).
Habitats within the park range from open meadows, northern hardwoods, rocky outcrops, rhododendron thickets, sphagnum bogs, grazed pastures, Fraser fir groves, and red spruce forests. Nine trails originate within the park, but several of these connect to the extensive trail networks of Mount Rogers National Recreational Area and the Appalachian Trail. Mountain hikers should note that the least strenuous and shortest hiking trail, at 4.2 miles to the summit of Mount Rogers, originates at Massie Gap within this park. Sullivan’s Swamp can be accessed from Massie Gap, as well. This rhododendron bog holds many unique treasures, occasionally including alder and willow flycatchers.
Wildlife watching in this park can be rewarding any time of the year. In addition to eastern hardwood breeders such as wood thrush, ovenbird and black-and-white warbler, in summer, visitors can look for nesting songbirds typical of high-elevation forests, such as black-throated blue, black-throated green, Canada, and chestnut-sided warblers, as well as scarlet tanager and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Spring and fall visits can produce a copious number of migratory warblers, thrushes, and vireos. This park is also home to a large diversity of other wildlife as well. Visitors should keep an eye out for black bear, bobcat, red fox, ruffed grouse, deer, and wild turkey. Salamanders can be plentiful, and this is one of the few regions where Weller’s salamander can be found.

We met our friends, Ruff and Sandra, Tuesday afternoon for a three-night stay in Grayson Highlands. They have a new camper, and were worried about pulling it up the mountain with their Honda Pilot, but they had no trouble. We enjoyed an evening by the fire catching up on the latest happenings.

Each morning I went down to the overlook for sunrise. With colors about peak, it was beautiful.

Martha and I hiked the Cabin Creek Trail the first morning. It is listed as strenuous, but really isn’t too bad unless you hike up Cabin Creek, which we did. This section of Cabin Creek is a tremendous series of waterfalls, all of which are pretty.

The next day we all hiked up Massie’s Gap Trail to see the ponies that remain wild here. We then walked up the Appalachian Trail south to the park boundary. A ranger at check-in said we would find horses there, and sure enough, three were there. A photographer was coming down and said there was a great overlook ahead, but it was socked in with fog. I love fog, as it often makes cool pictures, but I have recently had a fog overdose.

Sunrise at the overlook the next morning was cool with the clouds.

Martha’s chicken black beans and rice skillet dinner
Campground store
Shower house and Pepsi
Wayne Henderson is a highly sought-after guitar maker lives nearby
Visitor’s Center
Visitor’s Centter

We have barely scratched the surface of Grayson Highlands and will surely return. Happily, the refrigerator worked fine on propane, although not on electric. It might require a new circuit board, but I’ll read more on Airforums.

Abrams Falls and Tubing Little River

Friday, August 13, 2021

We took the morning Loop Drive, which is always fun. After breakfast the plan was to hike to Abrams Falls, about a 5-mile hike, then tube Little River in the afternoon. The Airstream’s vitals were getting low, so I opted out to go dump the tanks, fill up with fresh water and see if I could find a sunny spot to get some solar power. We have been here for six days with no hookups with two kids and now three adults, all charging iPads, phones, watches and a computer. We are getting solar each day, but it is minimal, since we are in the shade.

I hooked up, went to the dump station, which is a good one, then went over to the Loop parking lot, the only open, sunny area I have seen, except for in town. I was afraid there wouldn’t be enough room to turn around, but pulling over onto the grass, I was able to easily make the turn. I parked at the end of the lot, which wasn’t terribly busy in the middle of the day. Ahhh, 304 Watts of solar. It was hot in the sun, so I opened a window and turned the fans on.

I shook out the rugs and vacuumed the floors. I recently bought a Tineco battery-operated stick vacuum. I have been thinking about it for a long time, but finally did it after reading Consumer Reports, and I am quite happy with it. Sweeping isn’t difficult in an Airstream, but you can’t get into all the nooks and crannies. 

I straightened up a bit, then downloaded pictures from the cameras. Josh has been using the camera with the telephoto lens and has really had fun with it. It’s a big, heavy lens and tough to handle, but once he learned to rest it on a window or door, he got better with it. He got some very good pictures along with a number of unfocused ones, but that’s part of the learning curve. He has a good eye for it.

At 12:30, I thought I should bet back. Another four hours and I would have been fully charged, but I thought I should go. I parked the trailer and put everything back – bikes, drying racks, the stove and all the hanging, wet clothes. 

The group got back at 2:30. They had a good hike and a swim at the base of the falls. After a bit of a rest, we drove into town to tube Little River again. The water had dropped a couple of inches since Monday, making it more difficult to negotiate the rocks and rapids. There are three or four fun rapids on this section. The tubes are very sturdy, bouncing off rocks with ease. We had to lift our buts many times to avoid getting banged by slightly submerged rocks. It’s a fun, little trip that took us 2 hours. The kids went for ice cream at Burger Master.

Abrams Falls

It rained like crazy coming up the mountain. Of course I had decided to air out my tent, pulling out the sheet, sleeping bag and air mattress. Now they would all be wet and a mess. As we crossed the mountain and descended into Cades cove, the rains stopped. Martha had not gone for the tube ride, but wanted to chill after the hike. She had put my things back into the tent😊

We cooked potatoes and onions in the cast iron skillet and chicken strips on the griddle, along with cucumbers, tomatoes and green peppers. Karen had brought bunt cake for an early celebration of Martha’s birthday.

We have had a great trip with the kids. With rain predicted every day, it hasn’t bothered us. We have had great weather. It’s always good to be in the mountains in August. We’ve had some great hikes, tubing and wildlife drives through Cades Cove Loop Trail. These mountains are gorgeous. I love the “smoke” in the Smoky Mountains, and we have seen some picture-perfect trout streams. On the hike yesterday we saw two fishermen coming back down the mountain. They said they caught one fish, but knew they were fishing behind someone else. Brook trout are like that. Once someone has been through, they become very wary. You could spend all summer fishing in here. The park is huge, and there is a lot of back country to hike in, complete with shelters and campsites. What a treasure!

Hike Little River Trail, Cucumber Gap

We went on the Loop Drive in the morning, now the fifth time we’ve done it. We saw lots of turkeys early, but the highlight was finding a “bear jam” with a ranger present. There was a mother and three babies in a wild black cherry tree….all on one branch!

We relaxed and hung out, waiting for Karen to come at 12:30. She brought us lunch, and the kids told stories of the trip. They were so excited to see her! After a little nap, we drove to hike the Little River Trail loop through Cucumber Gap. The Little River is a beautiful stream with big pools. We saw two fishermen coming down the trail. I asked how they did. They had only caught one, probably because they were fishing behind someone else.

Little River
Little River

I was a little unsure after turning onto Cucumber Gap as it looked like it was going the wrong way. After awhile two ladies came down the trail. After some conversation, we determined we were going the right way. Martha stayed and talked with them as we walked on. One’s husband had been at the JAG School at UVA, and they had lived on Carter’s Mountain.

Josh was telling stories and talking about school that starts next week all the way down the mountain. I was behind them and Melissa and Martha 100 yards back. Suddenly, there was a large cracking noise. Looking up, we saw a tree fall to the ground with a big crash on our right. Scared us to death, but fortunately we were not in its way.

We got back a bit late, and the kids wanted to take Karen on the loop drive. Martha said she would stay and get dinner ready – campfire stew. What a show we had. Our best spotter is Melissa, especially standing out the sunroof. There were turkeys near the barn; then a coyote trotting through a field. Then Melissa spotted two bears in a big tree to our right. I handed the camera with a big, heavy lens to Josh in the back seat, first setting it to automatic and adjusting the iso. He did a fabulous job and loved every minute. Thinking that was all we would see, and talking about how lucky we were, we rounded a corner and were stopped by a husband and wife in the street. A mother bear and three babies were in the woods. I parked the truck and everyone got out. They appeared right in front of us in the field. Josh was shooting while a man was talking to the mother bear, guiding her to a hole in a wire fence. As she made it to the opening, I ordered everyone back in the truck. Josh stood on the console and out the skylight, still shooting pictures. All four bears walked right in front of the truck, up the side of it and crossed the road into the forest. We were breathless. Those little babies were soooo cute! What a night we had. Back at camp, we told Martha all the stories.

Melissa Quotes:

Getting up from the hammock, I asked where she was going. “Gone to Nebraska’, she said.

Eating her second piece of bacon while the eggs were cooking, I said, “Don’t fill up on bacon.” She replied, “You can’t fill up on bacon. Everyone knows that. It’s a commonly known fact.”

She kept calling me “Crazy Dude” as I tried to kiss her on the forehead while she kicked, pushed and screamed.

Hike Mt. Le Conte to the Bluffs

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

We had a rather lazy morning. I downloaded pictures from two cameras and the phone to the computer and wrote up the last couple of days. We were all tired from a very active day yesterday, and the kids didn’t get up until almost 8:00. They had a big breakfast of cereal, fruit, sausage and eggs, and then Josh had a yogurt.

Melissa loves the hammock, and is in it swinging high every chance she gets. Amazingly flexible. Who else could sit in a hammock with their feet resting on the edge of the hammock to each side of her, legs stretched out in a super split? Then she is holding onto her toes, smiling!

Our event of the day was to hike Mt. LeConte to the bluffs, about half way to the top, about 2.3 miles up. We had reviewed some of the hiking possibilities, and this was the one chosen. It is an hour drive from the campground on the River Road that follows Little River, the one we tubed yesterday. This is a picture-perfect trout stream. A river is bigger than a stream, so in trout stream terms, this is a big one with lots of big boulders and lots of big pools. We saw some people fishing it, but not so many. With so many people visiting the park, the traffic was busy on a very narrow two-lane road that curves many times following the river up the mountain. I honked at several people who crossed the yellow line. 

Poor Melissa gets car sick, and this is not a good road for people who get car sick. She was a little wobbly by the time we got to the trailhead. Cars filled the parking lot and lined both sides of the road in both directions. We finally found a spot a half mile from the trailhead. Several people were fishing a beautiful pool below us. Getting down the steep bank must have been interesting. Getting back up would be a real challenge.

It’s a beautiful hike up Mt. LeConte, following a very pretty trout stream. The Bluffs are a huge rock overhang with water dripping over the edge. This could be a big waterfall after a heavy rain. A lady said I should continue a quarter mile further to “The Fields” for a spectacular view. While Martha and the kids ate lunch, I hiked ahead. The climb is more steep as you go higher, and I never found “The Fields”, so I headed back. The walk down wasn’t so bad, but still a long walk. Everyone was tired by the time we drove an hour to get back to camp.

It was a good night to make pizza in the new oven, and it was a big hit, letting Josh and Melissa make their own. It was a good pizza and a fun way to let everyone participate.

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