Imagine a clear stream. Tall boulders to sun on and sit on like a mermaid. Fish nibbling at your legs. Larger fish swim by, with dull colored bodies but flashes of color on their fins. Pools deep enough to tread water and other, shallower spots to just sit and soak.
The Lilly Bluff area is most famous as a destination for rock climbers. But for me and my family, no summer would be complete without a swim there, hanging out on a slanting boulder, then splitting up with Dad doing his plant survey along the banks and the rest of us exploring the river by swimming it. There are plenty of trails to get warmed up with and as stated above the rock climbing will get you nice and hot to enjoy some natural Tennessee water.
The area is pretty well known, indeed it even has restrooms. But if you feel like it’s hard finding a spot to yourself, keep moving along the bank and you’ll find your own boulder.
You can sometimes see just the skipping of a frog-sized shape. Other times though you can find their big-eyed faces peaking up out of the water or the leaves. I count myself lucky when I catch them like that.
Yvonne stayed silent, wanting to conteplate nature in a respectful, worshipful way. Silent too, I crept slowly and silently too, but my approach was that of a hunter. I wanted to capture the big-eyed stair, the dull back, the bright green under them.
In my experience frogs are either still or hop or swim out of the way. Rarely have I ever seen one just leisurely stroll.
But I must have been doing something right. Only after quite a few pictures did this one jump out of the way.
Green frogs are not always green or in this case, not always all across their bodies. The main thing that separates them from bullfrogs is the fold that extends down their backs. They also lack the square or round spots of pickerel or leopard frogs. If all that came off as gibberish to you, and to you they’re all frogs, that was the same for me until I read up on these hopping adorables in The Amphibians of Tennessee, a book I recommend.
Their mating call, which they make at age two onward when seeking mates sounds like a banjo and you can hear it for half a mile.
I spotted this and another frog recently at the University of Tennessee Arboretum in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Arboretum is not, precisely, wilderness, but rather spot with various experimental and exhibit areas, among them “small wetlands” which are shallow ponds. These are the best spots, as you can imagine, for frogs.
Purple flowers bloom, pools with lilies sit quietly, and if you keep walking far enough, you’ll see little frogs jumping from your path everywhere. Ducks swim by. Just the kind of place that makes you want to take a moment, reflect …
And scratch like crazy from all the mosquito bites. I imagine for a lot of people what they’ll be contemplating is … how soon they can leave.
All joking aside, Yvonne and I enjoyed coming to Quincy Bog Natural Area, near Rumney NH, by evening. It’s a short trail and you might even learn some plant names by the helpful signs placed near ferns. While we did not see beavers, we did see what appeared their dam. With a little insect repellent, which we did not have, you should be fine. And truth be told I can handle a few bites in the name of natural beauty.
Rather than reading about Quincy Bog, enjoy it for yourself! This video isn’t by me, but Peter Bloch really does a good job.
Trail maps are available here althoug we did fine looping around the pond without one.
Artist’s Bluff, particularly the less than .5 miles just the bluff, is not that far a walk but it has everything: grayish cliffs! Mountains of green trees! A bright blue lake! And that most scenic of things, an interstate!
It’s another odd thing writing about hikes and National Parks. There are people like Bill Bryson in “A Walk in the Woods” who whine about being out in the woods too far away from any farms or villages — unlike in Europe — and want some human habitation for perspective. And then there’s people like Edward Abbey who demand that not a single car touch their perfect parks.
And then in the middle there’s me, an admirer of both writers, who just sits back and looks at that little shoelace of pavement I-93 with its hot wheels cars and trucks. They go by in the shadow of the mountains around them, dwarfed by the mountains that drew artists lugging their canvasses here almost a century ago. Neither they nor the ski slopes really steal from the area’s natural beauty that have brought people here for centuries.
Ladies in their frilly dresses climbed here. That’s at least what my guidebook told me, although imagining them on such a steep and rocky trail seems nonsensical. But even back then artists appreciated these views. Here’s a few comparisons of then and now.
Many people, people who are not trying to cram this hike in near sundown like I was, go on to Bald Mountain or stop at the bluff on their way down. Also, the nearby Echo Lake is a good way to cool off, again, if you’re visiting at a different time of day. For me though I have no regrets. Artist’s Bluff is a place to enjoy at your own pace.
The mountains of Franconia Notch show off their granite slabs to visitors below and to climbers of its mountains.
They turn red at sunlight.
You can see them from the interstate, pull off and visit them from along a bike trail, swim in a lake below them, ski them in winter, hike them or rock climb them regardless, Franconia Notch State Park has something for many different tastes. Of course, most famously, people often view Franconia notch from above on the Appalachian Trail from Mount LaFayette.
As we were trying to speed run New Hampshire, we focused on two short hikes: The Basin and Artist’s Bluff. I will post them later. For now though, enjoy these images taken on and near the park’s bike trail which we used as a route to travel through some of park.
They aren’t representative. Much of the bike trail is wooded rather than wide open and it’s never far from the interstate. Still it’s a way to avoid interstate traffic and parking issues to get out and enjoy the park, walking to all of its trails.
Plus, it had one or two fresh raspberries still left which were certainly delicious.
“We humans are a self centered race. We see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we remake our world in our own image.” -Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics.
But the one place you don’t see him: On the actual mountain.
The devotion people have to this set of ledges, a natural formation resembling a face, first recorded in 1805 is touching, in its own way. It’s not large when viewed from below and only visible from a certain angle. But it looked human. And to visitors that was what mattered.
Thanks to writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster though, who both wrote about it, and the natural desire to identify with things that look like us, people loved that face as though it was an actual person. In 1958 people tried to hold it up with steel rods and turnbuckles.
But in 2003 after years of being stuck on a mountain and unable to live free, the old man died. I had looked at him many times. But now I can’t.
The ledges crumbled, as ledges tend to do, despite many efforts to preserve the monument. Much of the country didn’t notice. After all, the Iraq war was starting that same year.
But people loved the old man and, they couldn’t just let it go unmarked. Indeed you can still see The Old Man, but not as a rock. Instead, it’s a shape on a metal post, visible up there through a trick in perspective at Profile Plaza, as shown in these photos I took on site.
Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about. But even without the Old man, the other less humanoid cliffs and mountains surrounding the area, visible nearby on the Franconia Notch Bike Path are magnificent. More on that later.
Falling water calls to us, but why? Or rather why does it call to me, specifically?
Yvonne stood there, commenting on the cascade. On the layers of rock. On how it reminded her of an artificial one that stood in an art museum.
“It’s great hiking with an art critic,” I responded. At least she had the words to describe it.
I stood there recording her, unclear on what I could say. Waterfalls are wordless. Streams are wordless. Trees are wordless. The insides of flowers are wordless. Mountains are wordless.
And here I go prattling on about wordlessness using words. I go out into nature to escape the things I blather on about. And then come back, trying to put words to it, failing.
After rain and in cool enough weather, our route at Frozen Head State Park was a celebration of water as it crashed over rocks, fell from heights and muddied our shoes as we crossed streams in our way. People like waterfalls for their momentum, sound, movement, even small ones. The reason we find them objects of beauty varies, I suppose, but for me, it’s all about the constant movement. Stillness isn’t the goal for me in nature, even if it is for some others. Movement, sound, change, all these are. Wild yet steady. Explosive yet constant. Does it symbolize anything? Does it really need to?
So after all that stream of consciousness about streams, here’s some of the basics of where we were and what we did.
Our goal was seeing Emory Gap Falls and DeBoard Falls. The recent rain meant they would not be just trickles but places worth visiting, even if they aren’t among the area’s largest. Wanderlust gets the better of us and after many days of fussing around with unloading boxes at our new Oak Ridge apartment, we figured we needed an escape.
Here is a map of Frozen Head State Park, so you can see all of its many routes.
Rather than take the short way, we took the long way, starting out at the Old Mac Trailhead and hiking up the North Old Mac Trail through a forest of leafless gray and brown bark, but with glimpses of the hills beyond us. The green of mountain laurels and the red of acorns splitting open stood out more. It was just the start of spring. Small white flowers had started to open and we saw more as we went along. Yes “small white flowers.” My “kickass botanist” father would be ashamed of me for writing that, but it’s better than getting them wrong, since he wasn’t with me.
In general, the North Old Mac route has many bridge-less stream crossings after rain, crossing water that cascades down the hill. After passing a campsite, we headed down Panther Branch Trail which has even more of that, some of it a bit eroded as far as the trail went, so be careful, but enjoy. One of these cascades is the one above. It wasn’t even what people call a conventionally impressive waterfall. It was just water rolling over rocks for a great length. As a note, this cascade may not be as impressive on most days as it is after rain. It might not even be there at all in dry periods.
We then headed on the .5 mile Emory Gap Trail, toward Emory Gap Falls, which free falls from a rock ledge before continuing to fall in a stream over rocks. The area is a rocky neighborhood of boulders, outcrops and overhangs.
After hiking back that .5 miles and hiking an additional .75 miles the trail reaches Deboard Falls, another waterfall which crashes down white from an overhanging ledge, this one appearing to have more water and even falling to a shallow pool. Stairs lead down to the bottom of this one.
“You made it sound like this was barely more than a greenway! That there wasn’t much to see!” Yvonne said in mock-anger. True, I had said these falls were not as big as Bald River Falls in terms of sheer volume. But Bald River Falls in Cherokee, being right by a parking lot, can be pretty crowded. It doesn’t have the romance of being alone, kissing and holding the one you love while hearing the water crash down.
Please note: I do not guarantee hikers will be alone here. It may have just been the late time we were there. Don’t sue me if it’s crowded, please!
A much smaller waterfall, nameless and not on the park map greeted us before we finally made it back to the trail head. After crossing a bridge, we walked back along the road, taking the park road back to our car, passing tents, picnic areas and playgrounds and chatting about plans for future camping trips. The park, especially these playgrounds has a great nostalgia factor for me, even if the current playgrounds replaced older ones in their places. As a child we came here often. And I look forward to many more trips here.