A note from the photographer

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Check out my photography website at J. Commons Photography

Contact me to find out what I can do for you! Jennifer.commons@gmail.com

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP ~ Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome {J. Commons Photography ~ Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome}

Last Saturday the husband and I made it out for a day trip.  It's one of my favorite things to do together!  Several years ago, 2001 I think, elk were reintroduced to the Smoky Mountains near Cherokee, NC.  We have talked about going multiple times and finally went!  The drive to Cherokee was breathtaking.  The leaves were in peak color.  It was then I realized we may be in for a lot of leaf peepers at the park!

We first stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and checked out the surrounding areas.  There were no elk to be seen at the time, but it was still early in the afternoon.  My parents had ventured over there a couple weeks ago and said the elk came out around 4 pm.  We decided to head up the road, visit Clingmans Dome, and then backtrack in hopes to see the elk.

Just down from the visitor's center was Mingus Mill.  The grist mill was built in 1886 for $600!  It has a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel.  It was beautiful and very well preserved.

I love how the you can see the leaves falling!

Peeping at the leaves from the inside.

After Mingus Mill we headed up to Clingmans Dome.  I have wanted to make the hike to the top of Clingmans for a long time.  However, I had no idea it was such a HUGE tourist attraction!  About 2 miles from the top we hit a ton of traffic.  About a mile from the parking lot we were barely moving and there were cars parked down both sides of the road.  The husband has a bum knee and ankle, so I told him that if we didn't find parking at the top we could just skip it.  Thankfully, we found a spot in the actual parking lot.

View from the parking lot.

The climb to the tower is a half mile paved path.  However, it is wicked steep.  I've done a lot of hiking this year and I don't think I've hiked anything that maintained that steep of a grade over that long a stretch.  I felt so bad for Mike, unlike me, he has not been hiking all summer, but he was a trooper and made it all the way to the top with me.  

For all my snake haters - the next photo is a baby snake!!
Along the way we found this little guy.

Now, if you know me, you know I hate crowds.  I love to people watch, but at the same time a crowd just stresses me out and annoys me.  I had zero idea that Clingmans Dome would be this crazy busy.  Seriously, it was ridiculous.  If someone had told me that there would be a thousand people up there I would never have gone.  Besides the fact the path was so steep, I struggled to enjoy myself because of the sheer number of people.

First view of the tower.

We were packed in like sardines at the top and people would not take a picture, enjoy the scene, and move on.  There were also signs that showed what you were looking at in the distance.  I tried to read one of the signs, but two girls were standing in front of it, not reading the sign, not looking at the view, not taking pictures, but texting.  And don't get me started on the people that took 20+ selfies.  I snapped my couple of pictures and got out of there before I pushed someone over the edge!

View from the top.  

The Mountain Ash berries were in full bloom (is that the right word?) and beautiful against the blue sky and evergreens.

One of the many overlooks on the way back to Oconaluftee.

When we returned to the visitor center we were very surprised to find a ton of cars and people sitting in chairs along the edge of the field waiting to see the elk.  It was kind of a funny scene.  The fields are closed to keep people away from the elk, but behind the visitor center there is a mountain farm museum with several buildings and barns.  It is located on the far side of the main field.  We walked down to the farm museum and were treated to two yearling elk behind the barn eating cornstalks from a pile. We were inside the barn and they were just on the other side of the fence.

The Oconaluftee River runs behind the farm and people started to gather down by the bank.  We wondered down there and this majestic bull was getting a drink of water.  He was so large and beautiful.  And that rack!  It was darker back there, so my ISO setting was high, and sadly there's a lot of noise in these photos, but just wow!  We also were treated to hearing the bull make several noises including the famous bugle!!

The elk wandered back into the woods and we drove around to another field and found about 30 elk in a field.  Well, actually, it was a person's front yard!

The final exciting moment of the day - the park rangers came to move the herd along because it was getting quite dark and they wanted the people to move on.  Two rangers came up behind the herd clapping and shouting to push them across the road to another field and then up in to the woods.  I heard the rangers talking and letting each other know that the large bull was still behind them.  After they got the main part of the herd across the road the bull was coming up from the creek.  One ranger hopped into this car, turned on the lights and sirens, and drove towards the bull to force him across with the rest of the herd.  Well, the bull was having none of it!  He stood his ground and let out a loud, aggressive bugle directed at the ranger. It cracked me up!!  He did eventually give in and took the five does with him across the field.  It was a really amazing trip and I felt like I was in the middle of a National Park special!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Roan High Bluff {J.Commons Photography ~ Roan High Knob}

Monday, Deanna and I headed back to one of my favorite spots - Roan Mountain.  Last September I attempted the hike to Roan High Bluff (or Roan High Knob depending on what reference you are looking at).  I had done some light hiking that day around the Cloudland Hotel site and a little of the Cloudland Trail for around 1.5 miles.  When I reached the trail to Roan High Knob I was too tired and too out of shape to go any further.  I felt a bit defeated.  Earlier this year we did the Cloudland Trail and the Rhododendron Garden Loop for a total of roughly 3 miles and I was once again too tired to make the climb to the top.  On Monday, I was a woman possessed and more determined than ever to make it to the top of Roan Mountain.

On the drive up we got stuck behind a super slow vehicle and pulled off at one of our favorite spots to get a couple pictures.

Does anyone else see a problem with this setup?

We had planned to drive to the Cloudland Trail head, hike to High Knob, and then down the other side before turning around at some point.  These plans were thwarted by one simple gate.

We parked at Carver's Gap, picked up the AT, and headed for the top.  We were on a bit of a time crunch and I was so determined to get to the top that I didn't take a lot of pictures on the way up.  It was all up hill and the path, while mostly wide, was covered in rocks and pebbles.  Footing was awful and the hike was tiring, but we kept on.  Here's a few scenes from the way up.

 A clump of Mountain Ash berries on a cut log.

I guess it could be a good place to stop for the night.

 At the Cloudland Hotel site the AT continued off in one direction and we cut through the parking lot to join the Cloudland Trail.  This is the overlook along that part of the trail.

On the surface this is not a favorite picture of myself, but for everything it stands for I love it!  It was a 4.5 mile all uphill hike to get to this point. And with not being able to do it twice before with less difficulty leading up to it makes it that much sweeter! Celebrating my victory on Roan High Knob! (And I just noticed there is a "JC" carved in the wood below my elbow!)

The sweet reward.

 Much to our surprise, the AT does not cross Roan High Knob and the trail actually ends at this spot!  So back down we headed.

As I mentioned, we were on a time crunch.  We opted to follow the road back down the mountain instead of the trail to save time.  While we did save time, the pounding of the pavement on the decline hurt both of these bodies! #NotAsYoungAsWeUsedToBe

 Just enough time to check out the Miller Farmstead and the overlook!

This hike distance ~ 8 miles!!!  Our longest hike to date and for me, personally the most rewarding. :)

Appalachian Trail ~ Big Bald, North Carolina {J. Commons Photography ~ Big Bald, NC}

Last week, Deanna and I headed out to Wolf Laurel.  She has a cabin there that overlooks Big Bald and Little Bald along the Appalachian Trail.  I had not hiked Big Bald yet, and we were excited to see the fall colors.  Even 5,000+ feet there still was not a lot of fall color, but the day was beautiful and our views were magnificent!!

Mountain Ash berries against that blue sky are amazing!

Halfway up Big Bald and looking back at Little Bald.

The top of Big Bald marked with the AT blaze and a plaque.

The road less traveled.

Halfway up Little Bald and looking back at Big Bald - It was crazy realizing we were at the top of that!

So, on top of Little Bald there is a bird society counting and banding birds.  They have nets set up to catch the birds that will not harm them.  As we rounded one curve we saw a bird on top of a post and we got so excited thinking it was a big bird of prey.  My long lens confirmed it was a large bird of prey . . . made of plastic!  Oh well!

We hiked down the other side of Little Bald and on our way back to the top there was a loud commotion behind us.  We had been trying to catch a picture of a couple of chipmunks that were playing hide and seek with us when a group of deer crossed behind us.  It was probably a funny scene to watch from the outside.  Deanna and I were stock still waiting to see the deer better, the deer were still waiting to see what we were going to do next, and the chipmunks kept popping out to laugh at us!  We were in a thick area and I was only able to get this one not-so-great picture of a deer.  Shortly after they took off back the way they came.

The only winged creature we saw in the catch nets - a ladybug!

After our hike we drove over to the cabin to check on things.  I forgot how much I love their cabin!  Part of it is even pre-Civil War!  How cool is that?!

 The view of the Balds from the cabin.

We drove around Wolf Laurel so Deanna could show me this awesome mountain hole on the golf course.  Crazy!  Can you imagine playing that?!

Hike distance for the day - 7.5 miles!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Laurel Run Trail ~ Church Hill, TN {J. Commons Photography ~ Laurel Run Trail}

October 3, 2016 ~ Deanna and I had a friend, Ruth, in town from Michigan.  She joined us on the first part of our adventure to Laurel Run Trail in Church Hill, TN.  The reviews promised beautiful waterfalls.  I will let you be the judge!

This story is going to move from fun to heart pounding to creepy and surreal!

We drove out to the park and found a cute, quaint park with a great kids' playground, a disk golf course, and walking path.  What we didn't find - the trail head!  We walked in circles for a bit and seemed to keep popping up around a park worker who was a little on the strange side.  We finally found the trail head, but laughed the whole way!  The path proved to be 95% uphill from the get, but there were some fun little creek crossings.

Grapes or fungus?

Lower falls?  I think the little drought we have is wreaking some havoc on the water flow!

Oh, look!  More cascading water!

I mean, seriously, I am standing in the creek bed!!

The upper "falls!" Can someone turn the water back on?

Somewhere around this point Ruth had to turn back and get on the road home.  We made her promise to text us and let us know she made it back to her car!  Deanna and I continued along the path.  The trail eventually meets up with the trail system of Bays Mountain.  We were really looking forward to heading into Bays Mountain.  Until the crunch heard around the park - Deanna heard a noise.  I stopped to listen and said, "Um, I am pretty sure that is something large crunching acorns." Deanna said, "I think it's getting louder and closer."  We took a few more quiet steps forward peering into the forest, but could not see anything matching the loud crunching.  Last year, at Cades Cove, I was privy to being up close and personal, from the safety of my car, to a bear crunching away on acorns.  Turns out, not a sound you tend to forget!  We decided Bays Mountain could wait and headed back down the mountain. Every rock we accidentally kicked over the side and every branch that we broke made us jump!  Once we got back down to the "waterfalls" we slowed our pace and began to enjoy our scenery again!  (Side note - last week Mike and I watched a documentary on the Great Smoky Mountains in which a bear was crunching acorns. Yep.  That was clearly the sound!)

Love these little evergreens taking root.

Somehow, Deanna managed not to plow into this little eight legged fellow hanging over the path.

Back off the trail we explored the park a little bit and walked along the Holston River.

I took way too many pictures of these silos across the river!

Since the acorn crunching bear "chased" us back down the trail we didn't get quite the hike in that we had planned.  I remembered a greenbelt that Mike and I visited last fall, I think, and I wanted to explore it a little more.  There's also the very cool haunted mansion, Rotherwood.  

When we pulled into the small parking area there were several cars there and a few of them still had their occupants just sitting there, including a Stanley Steamer Van.  It was a little weird, but we carried on.  As we walked down to the path a man in khakis and a black polo literally hopped/skipped into the grass, sat down, then laid down on his side with a pillow.  I'm not kidding.  Deanna and I just looked at each other.  We walked by him and he rolled over and looked at us with this super creepy smile and slow wave.  Think Stepford Wives (I still curse my friends for making me watch that! 1975 version, not 2004).  We were a little creeped out, but continued on.  We walked along a path where two young guys were fishing.  Thankfully, they were not too creepy.  Out of nowhere there was a man on one of those large deck mowers coming down the path towards us.  The section of path we were on was all concrete and surrounded by water on both sides.  We couldn't figure out if he was coming down the path or not, when he did the creepy smile and slow wave.  No joke.  We were dying! We tried to continue down the path, but much to our chagrin it ended!  We had to go back towards the weird folks!!  We passed the fishers, quickly went by the pillow guy, and headed the other direction.  The grass cutting guy was completely gone. Where the heck did he go so fast?  

At least we found more cool fungus!

We decided we were thoroughly creeped out and turned back around.  I had told Deanna about the large wild cat population that was there the last time I had visited. We didn't see any until we turned around. One lone tabby came out of the bushes to watch us walk by.  Again, no joke.  The pillow guy had been facing away from us, but as we grew closer he flipped over to face us and watch us go by.  We took the path that went under the highway and away from the creeptastic park.  More on that in a minute!

This path actually led back up to the highway and we crossed to return to our car.  The Stanley Steamer Van was still there and the dude watched us the whole time in his side mirror.  As we would get out of his view he would lean further up to keep watching us.  I had my hand on my bear spray and was ready to attack if necessary!!!  We got in the car and left unscathed.  It's really hard to impart the feeling that we had at that park.  I have been in situations where I was scared, worried, and anxious, but none of those quite fit.  I honestly felt like I was in some eerie dream sequence in a Stephen King novel.  It was completely surreal.  

Since we were already in Kingsport we headed to the fish supply store.  On the way we passed a pickup truck with a severe lift kit and it had a clown strapped to the grill.  Deanna tried to get a picture, but couldn't get it.  Things were normal at the pet store, but our last person contact was outside the store with a guy headed into the store - he gave us the creepy smile!  We could not wait to get out of Kingsport!!!!

Hike distance - 7 miles