Looking down at Gatlinburg


The last detail, I wish to share of my Blue Ridge Parkway travels in early June (which I’ve told out of order and interrupted by other posts) didn’t take place on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It took place on the Gatlinburg bypass.

The Gatlinburg bypass is a way to avoid having to pass through Gatlinburg for people going through the Great Smoky Mountains. As such, it appeals to people who probably find all the candy stores, corn liquor and goofy Ripley’s attractions too commercialized.

But of course, you do wind up seeing Gatlinburg from above on it. And from above it looks quite different. The resorts, hardly the most eye catching part of town from the ground become what you spot first. And you really see how what from below is an oddly magical to people who know it collection of log cabin kitch, from above is far overshadowed by the folds of mountains that give it its reason for existing.

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A Day at Bald Mountain


View from Bald Mountain
Mount Lafayette, as seen from Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain’s loop trail at Franconia Notch in New Hampshire, isn’t long, at just 1.5 miles, some of which you don’t even have to do. The hike can just be done as an even shorter up and return route, which is what we did. But don’t let that fool you into thinking everyone will feel like doing it.

Visitors will find themselves scrambling up rocks for a short distance before reaching the summit and even Yvonne, shown above, who’s been with me on quite a few trails by this point, didn’t feel like making it all the way up the rocks. I left her behind and kept going. To me rock scrambling is part of the fun and takes me back to my time scrambling on rocks as a child. But I can see why not everyone might enjoy it.

Earlier that day we returned to Artist’s Bluff, the focus of a previous trip to the area and the other side of the fork that leads to Bald Mountain.

Which of the two vistas of the notch below and mountains above you prefer depends on what your preferences are in terms of what you like to see. Artist’s Bluff gives you a clearer view of Interstate 93, with its seemingly Hot Wheels style trucks and cars giving a good scale for the grandeur around it. Also from there, you get a better view of Echo Lake Beach and its kayakers.

But from Bald Mountain, the Interstate is less intrusive, as shown in the view above, although you’ve got a much wider view of Cannon Mountain’s ski slopes, which lets you know you’re still in civilization of sorts. Also more visible from Bald Mountain are some hazy mountains off in the other direction.

If going up Bald Mountain, you’ll want to leave some time to sit and enjoy the view. Also if you don’t mind cramming more stuff into one day, leave some time for the rest of Franconia Notch. I’ve covered some other highlights in other posts, including the park as a whole the oddity that is the former Old Man of The Mountain site, and The Basin. Driving or walking through the notch area is a treat in itself, looking up at the exposed rock formations on various peaks.

Mount Pisgah Campground and Pisgah Inn


Above is our tent. The tent I accidentally hit Dad a few times in my sleep during my time writing the book Wildly Strolling Along: Father-Son nature adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail, although he said it was only twice.

My better half or “frequent hiking companion” as I call her, Yvonne laughed the first time she entered it, on our camping trip at Mount Pisgah Campground. I must say that having her laugh at the idea of being crammed into such a small space was better than having her whining all night. She liked the tight space for the two of us, for obvious reasons, however.

We had it to ourselves, even though my Mom Judy Roitman and my Dad Larry Pounds had another tent and my sister Jessie Pounds and her boyfriend Allen had yet another. Jessie was the one who suffered, due to a failing air mattress and no sleeping bag. Somehow she slept.

We had arrived after nightfall and after dinner, and after getting lost for a few hours with me not recognizing my parents’ new SUV and going around the loop a few times, with just a few hastily picked up now cold leftover McDonalds fries to eat by the fire. The mountaintop air felt freezing cold to my summer-adjusted Tennessee skin. But Yvonne was taken in immediately by the flames of a fire my parents had started.

“I want to stay a bit longer. I don’t get to do this stuff often,” Yvonne said. And so we started the first night of our weekend-long trip.

***

Mount Pisgah Campground is, for me, an ideal spot as car camping sites go. While the site had plenty of water pumps and restrooms, it still, in spite of by no means being back country at all, gained many points for its natural beauty. The area, due to its high elevation, had an explosion of mountain laurels, purple rhododendrons and azaleas, many of them right at the campsite or near the road immediately to it. These thick bush clusters are called Hells, for obvious reasons due to the difficulty of getting out of one. But to me it was heaven. Red squirrels, instead of the grey ones common below played around us.

Just outside the campsite, out on the road, we could see an array of stars away from light pollution. The campsite, or at least the part of it we were in may not be the best for that, given its lack of open space except on the road, but the various “hell” thickets do provide some privacy between campsites that a campground in more open space would lack.

The area also boasts nearby trails, which will be the subject of two future posts, gave us a chance to see even more of this natural beauty.

The shower only had one stall, leading to quite a wait. But after sitting for a while surrounded by all of the dark thickets near the stoop of the restroom was actually exactly the experience I needed, even if it annoyed the others.

***

Apart from the trails, just exploring the campground and nearby area is fun in its own right and not just for the hells and the stream. Yvonne and I, apart from the rest of the family, did some exploring on our own, walking just outside the campground and along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Pisgah Inn.

Throughout our trip, no one else felt like showering, as there was only one shower per gender at the campsite and a long line for each. But then I realized it was not a problem to wait outside beneath the stars, looking out into now dark rhododendron thickets, even if I was just waiting for a shower.

***

The Pisgah Inn is a place we didn’t stay with an fine-dining excellent restaurant we didn’t eat at, a craft and gift shop, featuring exquisite gifts we did not buy, and a country store at which Yvonne and I bought a single loaf of white bread before crashing on the rocking chairs. So why do I bring it up?

Observation deck at Pisgah Inn
This is the observation deck at the Mount Pisgah Inn, with the gift shop and restaurant behind it.

The main draw of Pisgah Inn, as far as I’m concerned, is the one thing we did experience fully: a deck from which you can peer out at the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the detailed green-tree carpeted closer hills to the further bluer ones.

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A view from Pisgah Inn observation deck.
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Yet another view from the Pisgah Inn area.

This is what draws people up here. And we would see the mountains from even more angles as the trip went on.

 

Rattlesnake Mountain, New Hampshire


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Hiking with my Dad on a mountain really shows me the difference between the two of us.

Dad’s can walk all the way to the rocky summit of a mountain able too see for miles and miles but instead he narrows in on a tiny flower, examining it to get its precise name in English and Latin. I love hearing him give the name but instantly forget. It’s rock harlequin, by the way (Corydalis sempervivrens).

A mountaintop flower

Afraid of heights but curious about growing things, his bald head full of their names from falling apart books, he looks at a whole world of life others ignore, while Mom and I stare off into the distance, looking out at what everyone else comes for. But I do know, thanks to Dad, how to look for tiny blueberries on which I can snack.

I joined Mom and Dad on the hike up Rattlesnake Mountain in New Hampshire.

Rattlesnake Mountain is not tall or difficult to climb by the standards of New Hampshire peaks, but it is steep. The view from the top is typical Appalachian rolling hills covered in green trees rather than the more cliffy mountains at Franconia Notch. For some people the wind turbines visible on a nearby mountain may ruin the view, but for me they just make it distinctive. I consider it a good mountain if you’re in the area and want a short trip.

Artist’s Bluff, Franconia Notch State Park


IMG_20180718_192343271_HDR.jpgArtist’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!

I-93 from Artist's Bluff
I-93 from Artist’s Bluff, in the literal shadow of a much greater spectacle of mountains.

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.

Trail to Artist's Bluff
This is part of the actual trail.

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.

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Franconia Notch State Park


 

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.