Sunday, May 17, 2009

Conquering the Park

This blog entry is for Saturday, May 16, Day 2 of our trip to the Smokies.

Today was a mixed bag. We entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the first time of the trip. The crowds here blow my mind. We got to the base of the Clingman's Dome trail at 8:30am. The weather was very foggy and cool, but we decided to head up hoping it would clear.

Soon after we started we heard a group of school kids pierce the silent fog, quickly catching up to us. I did not make it to the top because the trail was very steep and my asthma acted up (my back was sore but not bad). So I sat on a bench and talked to a nice British lady and waited for the kids to pass.

On the way down I stopped a lot to look for birds. I saw a sparrow-type bird with a ragged tail that I have not identified. The highlight of this part of the trip was seeing a chestnut-sided warbler near the parking lot.

Tom made it to the top of Clingman's Dome but could not see a thing because the fog was so thick.

Then we drove to the Laurel Falls Trail which was crowded and paved from the parking lot to the falls. The scenery along the trail the whole way was very sad. Switchbacks were cut through. Kids were climbing on the rocks and trail banks. Sever erosion was everywhere. I understand that this is a popular park and popular trail, but it seems the average American has no outdoor etiquette, let along "leave-no-trace". A fire started by a tourist not long ago (we overheard a ranger talking about it) killed all the pines and rhododendron. Luckily the trash was not too bad.

On the way to the falls I saw a lady pulling down a bundle of mountain laurel flowers. She had a nice camera in her other hand, so I thought that maybe she was going to take a picture of it (I do this sometimes). Just as I was walking past her on the trail I watched her out of the corner of my eye and saw her wrist turn, so I knew she was going to pick it. So I quickly exclaimed "DON'T PICK IT!" I did not mean to yell or startle her, but I guess I did because she quickly let go (she did not deny my accusation). I was so flabbergasted. Then her husband/boyfriend got mad at me and started yelling at me and tried to pick a fight with me. But I kept waking, and just hoped that she would not pick the mountain laurel anyway. I reminded them that you can get fined for it, and he did not like that either, but he was so fat that he would not be able to catch me if me wanted.

The falls were lovely but crowded. Luckily we did not see our flower-picking foes.

Then we continued up the trial and we were in instant solitude. We saw some salamanders in a little trail drainage trough (dug by the park to keep the water off the trail). They weren't spectacular looking (dull brown with spots, about 4 inches long), but special to see anyway, especially for Tom.

In less than a mile we found the old-growth forest promised by the trail book. They were the biggest trees I have ever seen. Poplars and oaks over 4 feet in diameter. There was not much brush on the ground except ferns, so you could see far into the forest. The birds were chirping everywhere, very active considering it was the middle of the day. I heard several warblers and vireos. The only birds I could positively identify was Black-Throated Green Warbler and Red-Eyed Vireo.

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