Fryingpan Trail, NC


Who am I, some kind of wimp? I have scaled other mountains, scrambled up other rocks, even climbed other metal towers. But this? Rickety-seeming, a little rusty a narrow path that any child crossing by causes a panicky heart attack from me. I’m terrified. Terrified of the view below me. Terrified of losing myself or worse, my phone, if I dare to take a photo.

The Fryingpan Trail's tower

I move slowly, letting others squeeze past me, feeling the breeze and what I perceive as the metal stairs giving a little bit with my steps. I’ve stood on mountain crags before and never felt like this. In fact, I laughed at my Dad for feeling this way. But somehow this old tower is different.

Who am I kidding? I sound like a wuss. And yet that’s just it. The fear keeps me in the moment. And when I quite being scared when the clouds of fear clear, when I’m standing out at the top, just below the structure of the fire tower itself, I see the place below me, completely focused due to the lingering adrenaline.

And what a view! Hazy mountains beyond, trees, with all their tiny needles and leaves, covering the mountains like wool. Hawks circling, cars driving down the tiny belt like road and parking lot buckles. The who thing a moment I am in, mindful, joyful even.

Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from The Fryingpan lookout tower

My mind tends to fly: movies, politics, social media. Yet somehow fear keeps me in place. So by the time I do feel safe to bring out my phone it feels like I know exactly what panoramas to take.

Climbing down, I feel like moving slowly, not out of fear, but out of not wanting that moment of revelation to leave me.

Perhaps this is just the way this planet, this life is for me. Appreciation coming only in the moments of terror and other arousal and even those I have to work for. Others are like this too. This is why roller coasters exist. This is one of the reasons why people pursue orgasms. This is why people watch horror films. This is why I express feeling in awe as feeling “small.”

Of course, letting the mind wander has its value too, however much Zen masters may deny it. Some people travel precisely for that reason: to allow their minds to wander and not have to be tied down to the obligations at home.

So yes, all that’s my emotional state and thoughts on my emotional state. But you might have come here, expecting a review of The Fryingpan Trail, near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It’s not a walk through the forest as much as a walk on a wide non-drivable access road. For botanical experts like my dad this is a treasure trove of plants to look at, but it might not be for everyone.

Fryingpan Trail
These flowers are visible on the trail in June.

But the tower is worth the walk. In spite of being a bit scary for some people, it is still one of the best places to see the world below and completely safe.

Natural Bridge, Va


Its massive 215 foot stone arch looms over the path below with its rows of benches. Birds nest inside it, and crowds pass below it on Sunday, giving it a sense of scale, while trees grow above and around. The James River passes below.

Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge with a few humans for scale.

It’s $6 to get onto the small trail system and you never get the feeling you’re out in unexplored territory, but rather just at a natural wonder that happens to be well developed as a tourist hot spot, kind of like Niagara Falls only a bit less built up and a different type of natural wonder.

While you can’t jump in the river, at least not at this point, the rocky shade of the arch itself itself provides a place to cool off from, what was in late July when we visited, sweltering heat.

The Monacan Nation lived here before Europeans came, a which only got federal recognition as a “tribe” last year. At present, just past the arch some wigwams, a garden, a trading area and craft areas give a chance for interpreters to explain about how the Monacans lived in the 17th century. I spent my time there asking about details of bead-making and the sea-shell trade between coastal and inland groups (including the clams used for wampum) and a demonstration of conch-shell blowing as well as cooking, food storage and wigwam protection against bears.

I overhead another interpreter behind me was going into depth about the full-history of the siouxan-language group of which the Monacans are a part, including far more recent and sadder stories further west like Custer and even the recent Standing Rock. That’s part of the site’s appeal: the interpreters can answer any kind of questions.

Thomas Jefferson, the later third US president, owned this land at one point in 1774, with staff at the gift shop telling me that he bought it from his later enemy King George III of England. For much of its history since then, it functioned as a private tourist attraction. As a side note it strikes me how different Virginia tourist architecture looks from its East-Tennessee equivalent. Virginia rest-stops, restaurants and local hotels often try to look like Montechello with bricks and white columns compared to the log cabin architecture they have in East Tennessee. This is true of the gift-shop, restaurant and small nature exhibit area that greets visitors to the site too.

The area still has a general Gatlinburg-y quality, with a zoo, a safari park, caverns and a dinosaur attraction, none of which we had time to visit and none of which were on the main trail. The Virginia state park service actually had to remove a foam replica of Stonehenge from the land it now manages.

Instead of silly replicas of English landmarks or exotic animals, the park’s trail, after passing the arch instead goes along a stream before ending at a waterfall, passing some historical and nature related displays, including a saltpeter cave. As it was summer, we could see butterflies fluttering near the stream.

The spectacle-for-tourists heritage of the area though is still charmingly present. Signs told us of a light show called the “Drama of Creation” performed after dark and dating back to the time of Calvin Coolidge. The signs claimed the presentation isn’t affiliated with the State Park, which makes sense as it uses text from the book of Genesis and might be interpreted as going against separation of church and state.

But I for one can appreciate the grandeur of creation just fine with the natural evening light. While we did have to leave to head back to Tennessee, it was hard to leave.

Trillium time in Tennessee!


IMG_20190413_111039427_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpgFrozen Head State Park was alive yesterday with trilliums. They come in different colors: red, yellow, pink. Often, according to my Dad, Dr. Larry Pounds, a plant ecologist, they cross with each other. Ants pollinate them.
They’re easy to remember because tri means three as in tricycle. They have three big green brachts and three colorful sepals. Dad led a group of nine people that day while two other groups left with other plant experts led others a total with 21 people showing up.

My Dad and co-author of “Wildly Strolling Along” will lead many more hikes as the spring goes on letting you know more about all the colorful blooming things of East Tennessee. And I look forward to joining him.

Fall color on Cateract Falls Trail, Great Smokey Mountains


Upward view on Cateract Falls Trail

People get so focused on straight in front of them or below to avoid tripping on roots that they often forget to look up, especially if it’s not at a mountain.

This weekend is a crowded time at the park. But I encourage you to get out and enjoy the colors and if you enjoy them, the crowds. I again did not have time for a long walk, but rather revisited a short one.

Cateract Falls
Cateract Falls

Cateract Falls edited

As I have written before, the Cateract Falls Trail is an easy, flat hike close to the Sugarland Visitors Center.