Okay, so these are probably not your typical holiday photos. Over the last couple of weeks, though, I've been unable to get any football photos in due to the holidays and business travel. In fact I completely missed the state championship games this year which was sort of a bummer. On the other hand, I did get to visit the Smoky Mountain National Park during the Thanksgiving Holiday. I've been in/through the park before but this was my first time to have a chance to get out of the car and actually do some exploring.
If you're into abandoned and forgotten places you may have read about a "discovered" summer cottage town in the Smokies called Elkmont. This little village was never really lost, in fact, it sits right next to an often used campground bearing the same name. Still, visiting this little summer retreat today, as nature reclaims the grounds, is interesting. It's worth the short uphill walk from the Elkmont campground road. The village now belongs to the park and the park authorities seem content to let nature do it's job even though the village has been designated a historical site. I suspect most of the buildings will be all but gone over the next decade. The park service has restored a handful of buildings related to the village but the cottages and some other buildings have been left to fend for themselves.
Not far from Elkmont is Laurel Falls which, according to most trail guides, has an "easy" rating to hike. I presume because the trail is paved virtually the entire way to the falls the guides rate it as easy. I'd personally rate this trail as moderate because the hike up to the falls is uphill the entire way and the incline in most places is steep enough that if it were an interstate there would be that third lane for trucks to merge into as they inch their way up the hill and the trail is about 1.25 miles one-way. If you're packing gear or pushing a stroller be prepared for a strenuous walk and bring water with you. The falls are still definitely worth the walk especially if you are there on a day when the park is less crowded.
Another area certainly worth visiting is the Cades Cove area. You can do a car tour here except when the road is closed during the winter months. We did the car tour because of the hour in the day but this is really a good place to park the car and explore on foot if you have the time. The open pastures give you an opportunity to spot wildlife such as deer, turkey, and bear. We did see deer and turkey but no bears made an appearance. I wonder if we'd had the time and just sat somewhere away from the road if we might have seen one cross our path. Also in Cades Cove is a working mill and farmstead used by the park service to demonstrate pioneer life in the mountains. They were demonstrating the processing of sorghum when we stopped by there. The mill is really a beautiful old mill and they occasionally have it operating.
I also managed to get down to Australia (after two false starts on the trip) for business. Sadly the time I had planned to spend with my friend Norm was cut short due to travel issues but I did get to spend a Sunday with him. We drove to his new house so he could show me the property and the work that had begun on the house before he moved in. He's on an absolutely gorgeous tract of property with stunning views in several directions and even has a view of a waterfall tumbling over a sheer cliff on a ridge across a small valley from his house. The house also boasts a fantastic deck which we sat on and listened to the birds. Had we not been talking I'd have certainly drifted off into a nap on his ridiculously comfortable deck chairs. About 20 minutes from his front door is another waterfall which we hiked to. It's a waterfall I'd visited before but this was the first time in daylight. The last time I visited it we arrived there just in time for it to get dark and we got to see the hundreds or maybe thousands of glow worms on the roof of the cave. The falls spill through an opening in the cave ceiling before heading downstream which creates a really unique place to photograph, if the glow worms weren't already enough to witness. :-)
After taking the hike we came back to his house and sat on the deck again to have a snack and some refreshments. Before we got too settled we decided to do some work on the property so I helped him clear some brush and shred some of the other branches he'd already cleared the week before. We had dinner plans back in the city that evening but after we finished shredding the last of the dried brush it was clear I wasn't going to make dinner. I was beat and the jet lag was starting to catch up with me. We hung around his house a bit to see what the sunset would do on the cliffs within view from his house but clouds had moved in from the west and the sunset was masked. We packed it up to head back to the city and I must admit I was sad that my time with my friend was almost over. On the drive back we did stop long enough for me to get a shot of the sun just peaking over a ridge into Nimunbah Valley as it set.
If you look closely there is a large building on the far ridge line which most certainly has some fantastic views of the valley and surrounding areas. Apparently this is a hotel of sorts. Hmm. Maybe next time I go to Australia I'll book a couple nights here. :-)
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