Saturday, October 8, 2016

Thomas Divide and Smokemont Loop

Craig had to work a double shift on our anniversary weekend so I went to the Smoky Mountains to hike. On the way thru Wears Valley I saw turkeys, one white hen with younger ones. There was something wet falling from the sky that I hadn’t seen in a while. On the drive up Newfound Gap I actually had to use my windshield wipers! When I met the SMHC at the Thomas Divide trailhead on Newfound Gap Road, I got to wear my rain jacket and hat!!!
Cindy and Ken were the leaders and we quickly counted hikers (15) and shuttled 3 cars to Mingus Mill. We got back and counted 17 hikers with raingear on and ready to go. Thomas Divide trail had early fall flowers blooming, gentian, and lots of purple asters. The wind was gusting from Hurricane Matthew beating up the NC coast, trees swaying and singing.
We turned onto Deep Low Gap to our lunch stop at Little Creek Falls. We had some creek crossings that required some fancy balancing skills, log bridges with no hand rails, but no one fell in. Mingus Creek Trail was a pretty downhill trek. 14.9 miles and 17 tired but happy hikers to pack into the 3 cars, (how many hikers can you cram into a Subaru with a Ranger sitting in the parking lot? The Ranger was the same one that gave Tim a ride after our snowy return from a backpack in March.

I stayed in Cherokee for the night at Cherokee Campground and Craigs Cabins, in a bunkhouse. This is a nice small campground ran by super nice folks. The folks in the next door had a campfire between our bunkhouses so I got to enjoy the smell, while listening to crickets and night sounds. And then at 11:30 GONG GONG GONG GONG what the?? Went out to see what was going on. Asked a couple that were still up, him playing (sort of) a guitar and she playing songs on her phone so he could follow. They said it sounded like gun shots. Yeah must be cannon sized gun, I said You’re not from around here are you? They said no, hmmm. These gong sounds lasted for 20-25 minutes while I tried calling the sheriff’s office (busy) to see what was going on. After it stopped I was not lulled to sleep by the guitar playing. They finally quit around 12:45.

I got up Sunday morning to stars still shining. Went for a drive to the fields around the Oconoluffte Visitor Center and saw an Elk and several turkeys. Drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway thru some tunnels and stopped at the overlooks. Saw where we hiked yesterday from one of them. Drove to Smokemont to meet Garnett. Found her at the Ranger Station. The trailhead parking was full so we added to our hiking miles in the campground. We hiked the Smokemont Loop. Saw a few hikers on the trail, stopped at the top of the climb for lunch. Saw 3 deer as we hiked down. Saw something we couldn’t identify as we came out to the roadbed leading us to the campground. Looked like a small roof, maybe a kiosk, or ?? We didn’t walk thru the weeds to explore, maybe on the next hiking adventure.

After Garnett headed home, I decided that it was such a pretty day and early, I wanted more. I hiked the Tow String Road section toward the other horse trailhead, and some extra, up a hill to a cemetery. And a little bit of that horse trail.

More trails completed to mark off my map! Happy Anniversary!

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