Friday, October 30, 2009

Paying for That View, Our Last Adventure

We had to take a half mile climb up a steep but paved road. With my heart pounding in my ear, I looked back at the parking lot in the distance to see how far we had come.

Now only 800 feet more up a man-made ramp to the actual tower. See, people have made it and are returning. You can do it.

It is not far. Keep telling yourself that it will be worth it for the view.

Well, I guess it was. In the distance are the blue mountains just past the spruce and fir trees that struggle with this harsh climate. This is the well earned view from Clingmans Dome.
Now you can sit and rest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Domestic Squabble in the Meadow

We had lunch beside this fungus and lichen covered log that rested beside the log on which we sat. Its stunning beauty was more enticing than any elaborate centerpiece in a fancy restaurant and the lighting was far lovelier than any candle arrangement. We ate sliced asian pears that were as crisp as but more sweet than apples. We had crunchy crackers and cheese, to complete the gourmet meal as the fall whispered its way into the tall trees in the ravines.

We also sat not far from this very rare beauty in the photograph above. It appears to be a white-leaved maple tree. I have never seen his before and there were no others the same color nearby. Is there such a thing as an albino tree and how does it produce food with no chlorophyll?

The last day of our travels it began raining steadily and the skies were very overcast. We realized we would probably not be hiking very much on the leaf covered and slippery trails. Therefore, we made a plan to drive to a distant valley that hung between 6,000 foot peaks. Getting there is a real challenge because the paved road soon changes to gravel and becomes a narrow lane and then becomes very winding with many blind curves. We had to keep alert as we encountered a few cars as well as large trucks coming down the mountain as we were trying to make our way up. We passed safely, but sometimes with only inches between the vehicles and just a few feet from the steep drop off on one side. This was not a trip for the weak of heart.

We were determined to reach the top because we had been told by the ranger that we might be rewarded on an overcast day by seeing elk that had been re-introduced into the area a number of years ago. "Surrounded by 6000-foot peaks, this isolated valley was the largest and most prosperous settlement in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Once known for its farms and orchards, today Cataloochee is one of the most picturesque areas of the park."

As can be seen from the photo above, we were rewarded with a sighting of elk, actually an entire herd. We saw several striking bull elk and a number of cows as well as younger calves. Most were collared or tagged and close enough to photograph. You can see the tag if you click on the photo.

Just as we approached this large bull saw that part of his harem was on the other side of the road. He bugled loudly several times (such a haunting call) before lowering his head back and trotting over to that side of the road to herd them back and away from some of the younger males that were casually grazing nearby. The testosterone in the air was palpable.

If you click on the photo above you can see more clearly the cows hurrying ahead of the bull and the young males on the far right wondering what all the fuss was about. They will probably figure it out next year.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Smokin', Really Smokin'.

These mountains are called The Great Smokies and are part of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park which protects the larger range of this group of mountains. It is a natural wonder that lies between the states of Tennessee and North Carolina and is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Fall is the most popular time of year to visit this area because the many hardwoods break forth in remarkable color. If you get up early, you can beat the rush as well as catch the best light for photography on the driveway...and you will be least likely to be hit by a car driven by a distracted driver as you run back and forth across the highway for best views.

The fall weather is perfect for wearing that favorite sweater in the morning and removing it to let the warm sun hit your shoulders in the afternoon.

This area got its name because the fog frequently hangs over the ranges in the early part of the day and looks like smoke in the valleys. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with very good reason. There are over 800 hiking trails but the parkway is also lovely for the more sedentary tourists who do not wish to leave their car. The photos have been reduced in size. While these woods have the reputation of having the densest population of bears, I saw not a one! (What I DID see is yet to come.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Then Again on the Other Side of the Continent

Fall in the mountains on the East side of the United States is very different than striking gold in the Rocky Mountains. Here is more like a bordello. Like striking sex? Here we have a hussy that is not afraid to flaunt her seductive beauty. She wears colored veils that she throws at your feet whether you look away or stare straight at her as she strips away those veils. She paints her toenails and fingernails with kaleidoscopic colors. With the same compelling feeling a photographer gets when capturing sunsets, this photographer cannot stop snapping away as every view is too lovely to not try to archive in digital pixels for years to come. This scene above was along a mountain river in Southern Virginia as we set out on our trip. (Click for a closer view if you have prurient interests, natch.)

This photo was along the road on the Blue Ridge Parkway early one morning as the sun peaked over the clouds hanging just at the horizon and sent a ray of light in the direction we were headed. Someone was keeping an eye out for us I am thinking.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Hillside Treasure of Golden Coins Part 5

Sometimes you get very lucky.
Sometimes you are in the right place at exactly the right time.
Sometimes the earth empties her treasure chest of gold at your feet.

Golden aspens filled the hillsides as I gazed open-mouthed.
They glittered like gold coins from a pirate chest.
This is the kind of wealth you can store in your mind's heart for the cold winter.

One of my (our) tasks was to scatter ashes of loved ones.
We left our wealth in exchange for this beauty.
It was a golden offering of peace and rest.
(Boreas Pass Road, Colorado)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name? Part 4

Imagine my disappointment when my research revealed that this Rocky Mountain marmot which I had photographed in the high mountains is also known as a "Woodchuck, Groundhog, Whistlepig, or Marmota monax of North America." I had thought he was somehow more exotic than the similar creature from my area.

Why is he so cute here sitting on the edge of the rock studying me and NOT so cute when he is eating away at my cone flowers in my front yard and then lumbering his fat butt under my deer fence? Actually this one IS cuter. His face is a little different shape and his coloring is more interesting...don't tell my groundhog I wrote that thought...PLEASE. (Click on photo for a closer reveal.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Close Encounters During Afternoon Rush Hour Part 3

We were rewarded on one of our hikes above a dam with this view of wild goats before we even left our car to begin the hike! Someone said they were licking salt from the gravel. I was just trying to be as relaxed as they were about this encounter.

We hiked up to a snowfield or two and enjoyed the freshest air ever made and shared even though it lacked the molecules of oxygen necessary for humans that live at only 30 feet above sea level. Lack of oxygen makes you feel like a child sometimes and so at least one of us (not I) slid down the field on a butt.

On the way down the trail we got the strange feeling that we being watched and when I had the compelling feeling to turn my head to look back up the trail I saw these lovely wild goats studying us ever so carefully and following as closely as they dared. Clearly they were wondering why we were not moving down the trail faster. They must have had a schedule to keep, unlike us and begrudged our leisure attitude during rush hour.

This was a mother goat with three kids and they were all such a lovely snow white that their coats gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. I do not know if the young ones were all hers or she was just 'kidsitting' that day. Clearly we were not moving fast enough for them as they soon left the trail to stand out surefooted on a large rock promontory overlooking the dam.

With views like this, can you blame the goats for living here? (Take a little breath as this photo is really worth clicking on.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vicarious Pleasures Part 2

I will share with you another day of hiking in Colorado filled with dramatic views and you do not have to find your hiking boots or that worn rain parka. We hiked every day between 6 and 8 miles and every trail was so different in topography and flora and fauna. This trail took us up to about 12,400 feet. While I did not feel the hubris to attempt any "14ers" which is a common goal among hikers in the area, I felt that this climb was a more than acceptable achievement allowing me to pat myself on the back for such endurance while panting like a dog during most of the hike. I am so thankful to the powers that be in this universe that allow me to enjoy and complete this type of challenge at my age. It was mind altering as I stood in the moss and grass covered valley between the two imposing peaks of granite that will still be there erect, proud and strong, long after I leave this earth.

The trail was dry enough to miss most of the puddles of cold water as we headed up and up. The water, melted snow, was crystal clear and the moss and grasses a deep green as if it were spring. Musical gurgles of tiny waterfalls serenaded us during our small lunch near a huge boulder.

The little chinchilla-like Pika were peaking in and out of the rocks as they gathered mouthfuls of grass for the coming winter and whistling while they worked as they often do. They were the only wildlife we saw at this altitude. The lack of oxygen to breathe at this level meant I had to just enjoy the scenery while trying not to concentrate on breathing in and out. I got a vicarious pleasure at touching the snow field at the end of summer. The field is not seen in this photo but was just behind me. (I re-sized the photo above as it was too large for blogdom so if you click on it, it will be a bit grainy.)


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Room With a View

A change of view is always necessary medicine. Thus our visit to relatives in Colorado was decided. After a brief visit in Denver we headed out to Breckinridge, Colorado, and drove straight up the side of either Peak 8 or 9 to our condominium which sat on the steep and pine covered hillside across the from the mountain with the empty ski trails and above the valley filled with fall tourists. Just before we left our car a red fox came along the edge of the parking area and proceeded to jump like a ballerina and land with a very feminine stomp on some small rodent in the grasses. He was unsuccessful (big surprise with that kind of ballet move) and moved on as we exited the car with our suitcases.

The air was wonderful but so thin that we could barely get our suitcases up the first flight of stairs and into the main bedroom before breathlessness took over and we had to collapse on the edge of the bed in shock staring at each other. I did manage to get enough air to get the photo above of a lovely sunset from our deck.

This next photo is the same view from the deck the very next evening after spending the better part of the day hiking Spruce Creek Trail. The weather for the day consisted of sun, gentle rain, snow, followed by more sun and heavier rain and then a gentle blizzard as we reached Mohawk Lake above timberline. As we headed back down the mountain we heard thunder and were pelted by hail as we hurried for the parking area. (We had dressed in layers and so were not dismayed by the cornucopia of weather that mother nature offered.) When we got back 'home' I took this photo above from the deck which shows the powder sugar topping that had dusted the peaks and more clouds portending the heavier weather that moved in over night. If you click on the photo you can see the ski trails.

This is the sunny view that greeted us the second day after a night of rains at our lower altitude and snow at the mountain tops. Most of this snow had melted by the end of the day, so I was glad to have captured it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Evidence of Success

In the waning days of this past summer, I had been waiting for a visit from my son one long afternoon and for the third time in as many quarter hours went to the front door to look out to see if I could spot him coming down the driveway. The view was empty, the same as before. I opened the door anyway almost as if this action would encourage his arrival and something made me pause on the the threshold before closing the door. I didn't see or hear anything specific or even unusual, but there was a feeling I got that something was different or out of place. It was as if the air has been vacuumed away from the front of the house. I cannot explain it, but I really felt the change.

My first thought was that something was being very still and trying to hide in fear near the garden or beneath the leaves of the flowers. I scanned the front yard for an animal in the garden and scanned the outside of the fence for deer, but saw no movement or odd shape.

I gently stepped further onto my porch and just at that very second a large adult bald eagle flew across my front yard only twenty feet in the air and just 10 yards in front of me. He was gliding slowly and smoothly into the trees in the ravine on the other side. I caught my breath as I watched him disappear into the leaves in total silence. It was as if he was a ghost or a shadow of a great bird.

In the mid-1800's eagle watching was common in this area. Hunting, pesticides and habitat destruction had resulted in the loss of most of the bald eagles until decades of restoration work in the mid 1900's was implemented so that these dramatic birds of prey could return to safe roosting sites. If bald eagles now fly across my front lawn in such a magnificent ballet, I think we are succeeding. (Moment of truth: this photo was taken at another time and in another place.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Spooky time of the Year

As fall settles into the role of a familiar guest in my front yard my roses are seduced by the cooler air and send forth the best blossoms of the year. They are larger and more fragrant than ever. Yet I need to be very careful if I want to bury my nose in the lovely pink silk beauty.

My zinnias also hide surprises as I lean forward to check out the delicate and lovely yellow centers! Eeek!

My walk back from the dock at sunset also keeps me on my toes as this fellow was hanging just above my head on the path back to the house. Is it Halloween yet?

I decided to share some of the spookiness with my grandkids. I don't need to be the one having all the fun.