Norris Dam


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Some time in the 1930s, Harold Roitman, my grandfather, Grampie as I called him when he was still alive, came all the way from Boston to visit this dam. My Chinese roommate in college knew about it. To them it was a symbol of progress, understood by both to be an unambiguous good movement forward, providing electricity to people who didn’t previously have it.
We can debate what progress is now, a debate I’m honestly not in the mood for now. Right now, I and others just want to look at and listen to the sheer volume of water spilling over the dam right now after all the recent rain.

In my day job, I’ve reported on the heavy recent rains and their effects on activities like rowing. From up above the dam though, I can just enjoy the view.

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Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls


Midnight Hole
Photo via Trip Advisor. I will post some of my own once I find them. I promise.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park can warn against jumping in pools, climbing on rocks and swimming in its water all it wants.

But it’s not going to work. People will do all of the above. Which they did at Midnight Hole on Labor Day last year when I visited.

I’m more on the careful side. I just swim. And so does my frequent hiking companion Yvonne Rogers. But for many, enjoying jumping from a bolder into briefly numbing mountain water is the perfect end to the summer. And I can’t and won’t stop them at Midnight Hole.

(As a side note Yvonne Rogers, my girlfriend who can really rock a two piece on trips like this always reacts with mock anger after being called just called “frequent hiking companion.” Which is why I run the phrase into the ground on this blog).

The water is a deep pool with trout, at its deepest near the rocks where thrill-seekers routinely jump. It’s also frigid beyond belief.

Smokies summer

Summer in the Smokies is like washing yourself in a pool full of shades of green. You don’t see far beyond the trees around you, although those are so tall that they make city trees look like grass blades, in spite of not even being the oldest growth and being silly short-by-comparison East Coast Trees, not redwoods. You’re in a room with walls that don’t end but rather just put up green leaves here and there so you only see in clearings.

There’s a voice inside me that says “Yes, it’s a forest. With trees. Enough already.” Such is the inner conflict of people who write about nature on a regular basis.

The exact look clearings with their summer flowers and butterflies such as the mourning cloak also are unique to summer. None of them will flutter about in the winter.

And just like that it will all be coming to an end. Leaves already began on my trip last year to look yellow.

I will miss the thick green. And I will miss feeling even at all like plunging in ice cold water even for a second once this summer ends too. I’m happy to be posting this when it is summer again.

Last year Labor Day came and went. And I joined many that day at midnight hole, by the side of an old logging road, trying to grab summer before it crumbled on us into dried leaves and artificial pumpkin flavoring gimmicks (which, go ahead and shoot me, I love both of). But we have to enjoy summer when it’s here and fall when that’s here and winter when that’s here.

Mouse Creek Falls

Mouse Creek Falls was our eventual destination. The road to it, was also traveled by people on horses, which we saw passing by and tried to avoid stepping in the manure.

There’s no sign marking Mouse Creek Falls. We missed it the first time passing it, and kept going until we saw a sign telling us just how staggeringly far we’d come past our point. I told Yvonne I’d chosen this spot and Ramsey Cascades precisely because it would be shorter when, in reality, we wound up going just as far. But neither of us were mad.

We headed back to a place we had thought was just a hitching post (see this page for more details on that kind of mistake However, it was worth seeing the site in the romantic light of evening. While not as large as many waterfalls in the Smokies and certainly not the roaring Bald River Falls in Cherokee National Forest, it has what Yvonne called a “fairy-tale” quality, seeming like the kind of place where she figured unicorns might likely live. I recommend it as a spot to visit with your lover, if your lover doesn’t mind stepping around horse crap.

Chasing waterfalls at Frozen Head State Park


Falling water calls to us, but why? Or rather why does it call to me, specifically?

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A cascade after rain, crossing paths with Panther Branch Trail.

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.

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“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.

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Deboard Falls

 

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.

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Dad later helped me by identifying this one as a blood root. That was my original guess anyway.

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.

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Emory Gap Falls

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.

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Deboard Falls., from another angle.

“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.

Bald River Falls in Winter


IMG_0321.JPGI could never create this. I could never make this up.

IMG_0316This is Bald Creek Falls in Cherokee National Forest transformed into glorious columns of ice with a few streams of water still left to remind us of what the falls had once been.

IMG_0318.JPGIt drew crowds, forcing us to walk up the road. After all, we’re Tennesseeans. Ice is a novelty to us.

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But the frozen falls was glorious, and so was the trail nearby.

For more about Bald River Falls, check out my coverage of it in The News Sentinel.


Despite saying earlier that this will not just be a tourist blog, I will sometimes review various tourist attractions in the area here. People may just want more information about these places. Some of them (certain museums for instance) have long histories associated with them, which can be revealing.

Old haciendas in modern Mexico have become any number of things. In central Mexico especially, many had to divide their lands under beloved President Lazaro Cardenas, while being allowed to keep their houses.This particular one is now a water park.

Yeah, you heard me right. A water park. The old walls and the house are now parking lots and a cafeteria (which was not open). The slides and pools are out in what was once the fields. We actually went as a class with the summer group, mostly just to see the style in which Haciendas are built. (This was actually our second class trip with the summer group so far. I´ll get to the first one with Universal in Mexico City later).

I slid down two slides, both fun and both tunnel slides. I coasted in the wave pool and swam in a pool which had some of the old arches still over it. It was a great chance to get to know the new students more too.

Most of the slides weren´t open though. They try to conserve water on week days, which are, for that reason, cheaper to get in. Some travel bloggers would tell you that this conservation is a bad thing. I disagree. Sure, I may have wanted to do more of the slides, but water is a precious resource here in central Mexico. For that reason, I´m not sure how I feel about us having so many water parks nearby.