I finally got to hike with the Great Smokies Hiking & Adventure Group. Dale organized the camping trip to Balsam Mountain campground located in a relatively remote part of the Great Smoky Mountain NP, at 5310 ft elevation. It never got above 73 degrees, and was in the 50's at night. I set up camp while the others were hiking Flat Creek Trail. I met some of the group as they came back to camp. Liz was camped next to me. I walked the pretty nature trail from the campground to the Flat Creek trail and walked out to the overlook for the sunset. It was beautiful, turning the sky red. Made me think of the words to How Great Thou Art.
Back at camp Robert had a campfire going so I joined him and Liz till I started yawning.
Saturday morning Mr Owl woke me bright and early, but we needed an early start for the Balsam Mountain Loop. Dale gave instructions for all left turns and the hikers started at a fast pace, NASCAR style.The trail was overgrown in a lot of places, especially along the fence line up Balsam Mountain. We rested for a few minutes and Dale gave instructions for slowing the pace from the 2.8 mph they had kept until then. We started downhill at a quick pace and stopped at campsite 41 for lunch. As we were packing up someone noticed an elk by the hitching posts, she had a newborn calf with her. We cautiously took pics and sidestepped around them, trying not to startle them. We started up Caldwell Fork and stopped to see the Big Poplar, took 5 of us to reach around it. Not the biggest one in the Smokies but huge! We climbed a tough section of Rough Fork taking time to see flowers. Found a lady as crazy about wildflowers as me, maybe more so. She spotted some that I would have missed. Finally the trail got easier, the last two miles were not too bad. We finished the trail at 2:30. Everyone seemed pleased at the record setting time...
Got back to camp and rested my sore knee. Kicked back then the boom of thunder and the sky opened up. Rain washed everything clean. The sunset was beautiful turning the sky red. Brought the words of How Great Thou Art to my head and heart again. At the campfire we had a few more people sharing hiking and travel stories as Robert made the fire blue and green with some cool packs of Funky Colored Flames, You will have to check that out if you want to impress your campfire friends. An elk was wondering around the bathroom area just a little ways from our campsites.
Sunday morning we were up early packing up and I was excited about a new trail, and a new road to drive. The Heintooga Round Bottom road is gravel and it's one way and 28 miles to Cherokee. Spruce Mountain trailhead is along this road along with a few others. We climbed Spruce Mt to campsite 42 which looks like it doesn't get a lot of use. Remote.The bear cables look rusty, but there are 5 of them. Lots of flowers and mushrooms to see. The next stop was Beech Gap 1 to Balsam Mt. That's a climb, but very pretty, more flowers and mushrooms and ferns, and beetles. I was lagging behind and taking time to look at everything. Dale had given everyone instructions how to drive out to Cherokee at the beginning of this trail, so I assumed when folks got off the trail they would go on. I wasn't expecting anyone to wait. I had a note on my car saying "they waited until one other came out and told them 3 of us were a little behind and still taking pictures, and have a safe trip." I sure didn't mean to be a problem child.