Premature On-Line Bliss

My online happiness did not last long. After the last post, I was knocked offline, never to get back on (of my own accord). As it turns out, it was a blessing in the end.  Kind of.

I spent half of Wednesday messing with the computer and the hotspot with every combination of options I could come up with.  Nothing worked. We had an appointment at Rusty Wallace Toyota for the car’s 10,000-mile service on Thursday morning.  So, afterward, we went back to the AT&T store in Sevierville.  Turns out there was an option I had not chosen.  That was easy.  Then, the young woman told me I had already used most of my data.

“No, I haven’t.  I have an unlimited plan.”

“No, you don’t. You have”……blah, blah, blah, whatever she said. It’s a good thing we went into the store and discovered that or we would have gone over the plan and had huge extra charges. Making that discovery was the blessing.  We spent several agonizing hours trying to get the computer to “see” the hotspot.  Then, when we got back to Big Creek, it worked fine for a short while.  Then, not at all.

I waited for the store to open before calling this morning.  The guy in the know had gone to the bank.  I called back an hour later when I figured he had enough time to deposit and withdraw all his money. He was with a customer. My annoyance and anxiety were growing. Finally, he called back and got me online after instructing me to take out the battery and reinstall it.

Digital happiness again.

Things are slow in Big Creek. It has been cool and damp all day. We only had two campsites occupied this morning. This is Spence’s weekend, so he did not stop in for coffee. The people with group site reservations have not shown up.  I haven’t checked the horse camp yet. That just might have to wait until morning. It is raining heavily with rumbling thunder in the distance.  That is forecast to last several days.


Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is absolutely true: We go to Clingman’s Dome every year while we volunteer in Big Creek and we have had bad weather (poor visibility or pouring rain) every time. Today, we hit the jackpot.

The weather has turned just a bit cooler, in the 70s F today.  There was not a cloud in the sky-blue sky. While we were taking our romantic walk to the dumpster with our trash bag, I suggested that we drive to Clingman’s Dome.  The highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The highest mountain in the eastern United States even. Great idea, the weather was perfect.

I called Ranger Heath and we met him at the park’s Sugarlands visitor center to deliver his Big Creek coffee mug.  I forgot to take a picture of him. He was not in uniform and I didn’t even recognize him until he was right in front of me.

We kept watching the sky for the monsoon rain clouds or a bank of fog to come rolling in.  None did. When we came out of the forest near the top of the mountain, it was not as clear as the low lands.  It was still gorgeous, though.  This was the view from our parking spot.

We took our long-sleeve shirts with us as it was 63 degrees up there.


Here we are heading to the one-half-mile trail that leads to the observation tower.


I noticed something bright red on some of the trees and went to investigate.


They were big clusters of small red berries.  This calls for an internet search. The park website popped up with the answer:

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a small tree that can be found at elevations above 5,000 feet in the park. It is especially abundant in areas such as Chinaman’s Dome and on Mount Le Conte. In September, the berries ripen to a vivid, eye-catching red. Bears and birds are fond of the fruit.

Mountain Ash Berries

We headed up the trail.  It is paved all the way, which is a good idea with all those millions of feet tramping up there every year.


This is the visitor center/bookstore/gift shop with a row of  Mountain Ash trees on the lawn.


The trail is only about half a mile but, it is deceptively steep with a 330-foot gain in elevation. There are benches and rocks along the way where people were stopping to rest.  Andy and I were going so slowly that we were resting between steps.  It is prudent to pace yourself.


I got a closer look at the Mountain Ash berries.


There are mountain vistas all along the trail.


It is a relief to come around the bend and see the observation tower.


Then it was time to walk up the long spiral ramp to the top.


There was a crowd up there.


It was 360 degrees of mountain views. The dead trees are Fraser Firs.  The Balsam Wooly Adelgid was accidentally introduced here from Europe in the 1960s and has killed most of the mature firs in the park. I think that dark mountain in the background is Mount Le Conte, the second tallest mountain in the park, by a few feet.


I could show you lots more mountain views from the observation tower but, honestly, they all look the same in the pictures. Here is a look down at the plaza. We saw a group of park rangers standing there. We recognized one as the Chief Ranger for the park.


After admiring the view all around, for the first time ever, we headed back down the ramp.



The views were a lot better walking back down the trail.  I wasn’t watching my feet as much.


Andy did very well until near the end when his knees began to hurt. I could tell from his gait that his balance was suffering as a result.


And, that was our walk to Clingman’s Dome.


The Official Big Creek Mugs

One of the most popular exhibits at the Milwaukee Art Museum is the janitor. Just about everyone loves to pose for a picture with him.  He is life size and very realistic. Here is a picture I took of him in August.

The Janitor

George and Jennifer bought a large coffee mug with a photo of the janitor on it at the museum gift shop. As we were sitting at the table while someone was drinking out of the mug, Andy got the idea to make a mug with Spence on it.  I immediately knew which photo of him I would use. One of my favorite pictures of him.  He was blowing leaves off the handicap sidewalk when we were walking up to the campground.  He paused to say good morning to us and rested the leaf-blower backpack on the water fountain .


Unfortunately, there are not that many choices at Walmart on how many or how they are arranged.  So, this is what we ended up with:

Big Creek, A Closer Look at a National Park Coffee Mug

Uh oh!  I just noticed that the word “a” got cut off of the book cover picture!  Well darn.

I did get the picture and also one of him mowing the grass in the day-use parking lot.b02-spence-mug

Also,  a picture of him whacking weeds (the park calls it “string trimming”). My favorite picture of Spence is the lower one.  I think it shows his smart-aleck personality. He was probably saying, “HEY!! I TOLD you not to take a picture of me when I’m not working!”


Of course, Andy didn’t want to stop there.  We also made mugs for Linda, Boss Larry, and Ranger Heath.  That is with their own pictures on them, not Spence. We drove over to the Cosby campground this afternoon to deliver them.  Everyone was there except Heath, who is working mostly in the Little River section of the park now.

I will also give them each a copy of the book, whenever I finally get it. They are the main characters in it, after all. They all seemed to get a big kick out of their official Big Creek mugs.


Walk Along Big Creek

We puttered around the motorhome in the morning, getting some chores done. After lunch, we drove up to Big Creek to return a notebook of Big Creek history to Bob Taylor, the current campground host.  He has done a bit of research and has old photographs of the town and logging mill. There were many more houses there than I had thought.

We chatted briefly with Bob and Shirley before taking an overdue walk along Big Creek. We stopped on the bridge to look at the creek.  The water level is low.

Big Creek Downstream

Then we headed down the path.


This is the “secret” swimming hole that is not really a secret but is seldom visited. Today, the water level was so low there was a bit of  a shoreline below the steep bank.


A fisherman was in the creek when I went down to take some pictures.

Fishing in Big Creek

I walked upstream to take a picture as the fisherman walked upstream to catch a fish.


Our RV campsite is not level so the bottom step to get in the motorhome is high off the ground.  Andy found two pieces of wood on our site and laid a board across them to make a step. Then, for several days in a row, he would add another board or two.  I told him he had made me consider spending the big bucks for one of those steps made for that purpose in the camping store. I had to admit that it is functional.

We stopped by the Walmart on our way back from Big Creek and found a cheap plastic step. Andy set it in front of his work of art and tried it. He decided the plastic step so much better than his that he dismantled his wooden one.  I took a picture first.


June 09, 2016 – From Big Creek to Prince Frederick, Maryland

I have been neglecting my photography and log writing for weeks now. You know I’m sick when I don’t take many pictures. I did take my camera with me on a run into town for groceries.  Andy took me to Carver’s Apple House for lunch to cheer me up.  I love eating lunch overlooking the orchard.

b View from Carver's Apple House
View from Carver’s Apple House

Last Thursday, we drove to Gatlinburg and ate Mellow Mushroom pizza with Ranger Heath, his wife Dana, and their youngest son Garret.  Garret made a cherry pie for dessert with cherries from the tree in their yard.  Heath’s mother helped him with her pie crust recipe.  It was fabulous. The rest of the family is just as delightful as Heath and we enjoyed our visit with them.

b Dana, Heath, and Garret Soehn
Dana, Heath, and Garret Soehn

On Monday, we left Big Creek and headed east on I-40.  I took Imodium before we got on the road so I wouldn’t have to pull over on the shoulder of the interstate for an emergency bathroom break. We stopped for the night behind a Cracker Barrel restaurant along the interstate near Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a quiet a peaceful night.

We left the Cracker Barrel Tuesday morning and headed to Wilson, North Carolina for my annual pilgrimage to Bill Ellis Barbecue.  I ate way too much.  Then we continued on to Suffolk, Virginia to the Davis Lakes RV park where we stay when we visit son Mike.  We didn’t plan the visit very well.  We usually try to stop there on a weekend so we can spend more time with Mike, but this time we only got to see him in the evenings.

Here is Sao in our campsite.

b Sao at Davis Lakes
Sao at Davis Lakes

We sat outside on our little wooden deck and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We noted that we have not seen a robin in a year.  This one was not too shy and sat still enough for me to take a few portraits.

b Robin at Davis Lakes
Robin at Davis Lakes

This squirrel is also accustomed to campers and watched us watching it.

b Squirrel at Davis Lakes
Squirrel at Davis Lakes

Andy got me out for two walks around the lake.  I could really feel that I have done nothing but lie around for several weeks now.  I was tired after one lap. This is the swimming area on the lake closest to us.

b Swimming Area at Davis Lakes
Swimming Area at Davis Lakes

We had been planning to stop in for a visit with Fred and Cas, as is our custom every year.


I finished my prescription for the C-diff a couple days ago and thought I was over it.  The last two days, without Imodium, have reminded me that I’m not over it but, am getting worse again. Dr. O’Connor, in Marathon, suggested another round of Metronidazole.  If I am not cured after that, he said I should go see a gastroenterologist.

Tonight, we are parked in my Sister Barbara’s driveway in Prince Frederick, Maryland. We’ll hunker down here until I am cured.  Some Google searching revealed that I can consider myself non-contagious when I have not had diarrhea for 48 hours.  I’ll use the time to work on Big Creek. I do not want to visit the grand kids or Andy’s brother Paul until I’m sure I won’t pass this nasty bug on.


May 30, 2016 – Promethea Moth

Andy and Spence spent time up on the road directing people to park in horse-camp day-use lot today.  I was still not confident to leave the motorhome (but I am slowly getting better). I did get dressed today, though. Day visitors were arriving in droves to have a picnic or to hike up to the Midnight Hole. Many of them walk up the trail by our host site.  Today, two families stopped to look at the butterfly on the huge log that serves as our fence.  I decided to go have a look.

b Moth on Rock Under Log
Promethea Moth on Rock Under Log

She is a Promethea Moth on a mossy rock under the edge of the log. The National Park Service web site says the females are active at night and the males are active in the afternoon. I am thrilled to add her to my photo collection.

We have talked it over with each other and Boss Larry, and have decided to leave Big Creek early this year. Larry said Clyde and Debbie, the hosts at Cosby, are happy to move here for June. That was fast. I hope to be cured of this nasty bug in a few more days and be able to drive without making emergency roadside stops.  We plan to leave on June 6. We are returning next year. I am disappointed, but think it is for the best. We need to spend a little more time with family. Of course, I had planned for THE BOOK to be published in March and to promote it to regional bookstores while we were in the mountains.  That hasn’t happened and isn’t going to happen. I’ll just have to set my sights on next year.

Stay tuned.  We do have some more national park visits planned for later in the summer.