It wasn’t exactly a Spring Break vacation, more like a Spring Break snippet, but this weekend I got to spend a couple of days near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Bear Alley is a beautiful A-frame house, lots of rooms for lots of people, which is a good thing, because there were a full dozen of us.
Thankfully I left work before noon on Friday. It rained on and off and there was the usual construction on I-40, but the trip was uneventful until I got to Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. For nineteen miles, I got to share the highway with approximately six million other people who were headed to their spring break mountain destination, Dollywood, shopping, or dining out.
Despite the 40 minute delay, I arrived just before dinner: burgers, dogs, brats and all the right accompaniments. My contribution was ketchup, which sounds pretty lame, but everyone knows you can’t have that meal without ketchup. It rained while Zac was grilling, but he hung in there and cooked everything perfectly. Just before dinner was ready the rain stopped, the sun came back and we were blessed with the biggest, brightest rainbow I have ever seen. This picture does not do it justice – it was gorgeous! After clean up, I got to snuggle on the couch with some of my little cousins. They’re really second cousins and some of them call me aunt but that’s all fine by me. That night I slept like a rock – once the light went out I was sound asleep until after 6:00 am.
Rainbow over the mountains
Despite earlier predictions of rain and snow, Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. We loaded up in three different vehicles, dropped my car off at a spot where some of us planned to do a hike later in the day, then continued to Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an eleven mile loop through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There was so much to learn about life in the mountains in the 1800 and 1900’s!
Dogwood trees in bloom at Cades Cove
A cove is a relatively flat valley between the mountains. The families that settled in Cades Cove came from Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. Imagine my surprise to learn that the founding families included some Sparkses! It’s doubtful that we’re related, but it was interesting to see the Sparks name on headstones in the old Missionary Baptist Church cemetery. Historical sites are of great interest to me – I love seeing how people lived ‘back in the day,’ their ingenuity, their resourcefulness, their ability to survive in a world where everything was raised, grown, or created by hand, where weather and sickness and injuries threatened their very existence.
The mill at Cades Cove where they grind corn every day
Our last stop on the tour was the Carter Shields Cabin. This cabin is the perfect mountain home, a simple log cabin with a stream running through the backyard. Something about the place brought out some playfulness in our group – some of my cousins played king of the mountain on an old stump while the littles took turns holding a worm they found near the stump. Love, love, love kids being outside and exploring all that nature has to offer!
Half of the littles were brave enough to hold the worm
It was after noon when we left Cades Cove and headed back to my car, where three of us had a few snacks and set off on a five and a half mile hike in Elkmont. The parking lot at the trailhead was full so we went a little further up the mountain to the overflow parking area. We headed out on the Jake’s Creek trailhead. Along this section of the trail there were all kinds of abandoned houses that at one time were summer homes for Knoxville residents back the 1920’s. According to the NPS website, some of the homes may be candidates for restoration, while others will likely be torn down.
These are not hiking boots, but my Dansko’s were great on the trail!
After about ten minutes we started readjusting gear and taking off our outer layers, despite the fact that the temperature was in the mid-forties. Even though I’d been on a six mile walk the prior weekend, I was doing some serious mouth breathing and could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears before we actually got to the Cucumber Gap trailhead. Thankfully that was the roughest part of the hike and the next phase was a more gradual climb up the mountain.
Yellow trilliums getting ready to bloom
Trillium in full bloom
The stone path for crossing the falls
The falls cascading into Little River
There were a number of tree roots that tried to trip me up, but with my catlike reflexes I was able to avoid taking a tumble. A rookie hiker, I’d never crossed over a body of water using rocks as a bridge, but I managed to get across the falls without getting my feet wet. We got to the bottom of the mountain and turned onto the Little River trailhead. This section was flat and wide and followed alongside the Little River. At the end of the trailhead, we passed more of the old abandoned summer houses.
The entrance to one of the summer homes
The guidebook said to allow four hours for the hike, but we managed it in two and a half, even though I took a lot of pictures and we had to stop for a quick humanity break. Thankfully I didn’t encounter any bears or snakes while I was in that vulnerable position. The trailhead ended, but we still had to hike up the mountain to where the car was parked. Some of us just wanted to stay at the bottom and wait for someone to bring the car around, but we hung in there, got to the car and headed back to Bear Alley.
Ending the day with a cozy fire at Bear Alley
We had an early departure on Sunday as most of our group was heading back to Michigan, where they were greeted by snow/sleet/rain. That’s April in Michigan and why Michiganders go south for Spring Break. Thanks to all my family members for letting me crash at Bear Alley for the weekend!