I wanted to do a road trip for the July 4th weekend and my sights were set of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I started to settle for a Plan B due to time constraint. I would have settled to go to Cumberland Island National Seashore in southern Georgia and the coast of northern Florida. When I saw the temperature forecast for the vicinity reaching close to 100 degrees I decided to make the effort to head to the mountains. I took an extra day off of work and determined to wake up at 4:30 am 3 days in a row and drive extensive miles on end. I drove over 2000 miles @ 30 MPG, and estimated over 30 hours in the Altima. Today when I took the car in for an oil change to the auto shop the battery prematurely died. This was a very favorable circumstance as to where the battery stopped working. There was ample opportunity for the battery to die on some remote mountain road. The battery was actually under warranty with this shop, and was replaced for free rapidly. I thank God for big favors.
From Casselberry, FL we shot as straight as possible (country roads take me home) for North Georgia. Along for the road tripping is lil cousin Wobby (False Alarm), now armed with his own DSLR. We made good time and reach our 1st stop Toccoa Falls College before 2pm. I told Wobby we were visiting a Christian College not far off the route, but purposely omitted the central attraction for the detour. We enter the campus gift shop and paid $2 per person to exit the backdoor and go for a short walk to see Georgia’s 2nd tallest freefalling waterfall at 186 ft. I was then allowing Wobby to use a wide angle lens for his camera body and I held on to his main lens in the mean time. His lens was in my waist pack, but I had it unzipped when I dropped it in the water as I was leaping from rock to rock. This type of awkwardness is characteristic of me and my hastiness. Though we hoped to revive the lens after retrieving it, it was done for. Wobby must have taken a total of 5 pictures with the lens before I killed it. Fortunately it was a relatively cheap kit lens, and I had an extra wide angle lens. Thank God for small favors. He used the high grade wide angle for the rest of the trip, and I on occasion used it for certain special circumstances.
A little later on we find a charming camping spot with no immediate neighbors and set up. We got a good deal of Southern Hospitality from the camp host’s assistants. They personally lead us to our spot and gave more than enough information concerning the camp grounds and the surrounding area. God bless these kind folk. From the camping spot we do a short drive (made longer because I got lost) to a trail leading to Minnehaha Falls. On the way up the short trail someone said that the waterfall was not very good regarding getting wet in the falls. A few minutes later another group enthusiastically said the waterfall was great to get wet (baptized). We hastily went back to the car in order to have the right gear to get wet. The 2nd group was the right ones. The waterfall cascades in multi tiered steps which albeit slippery people may ascend the falls thru the rushing water.
The water was chilly but not cold. We ascended about half way up the falls to a ledge section where the water was freefalling. We entered the falls in this section. Wobby continued to enjoy the waterfall and explore by going higher up. I was taking pictures and video of him as he did. I then turned around to change lenses when he slipped and took a nasty slam, but fortunately staying on the ledge. He bruised his arm and sprained his shoulder. I heard him yell (mistakenly thinking it was in delight) when he fell. A couple of people did witness the fall, and the lady said she nearly had a heart attack as a result. Thank God for big favors concerning his safety in a potentially dangerous situation.
Now driving back, the sky darkens quickly and rain begins to fall. We make sure our tents are water tight at this point. It pours for quite a while. It later subsides, and Wobby revives the campfire in the fire pit from mere smoke. He dedicated time, talent and energy to get a good flame going when another downpour came without warning. The weather cooled comfortably and we took a short hike in the aromatic moist and lush woods covered in Rosebay Rhododendrons to another waterfall located near the camp right before dark. Our tents were dripped on from wet leaves all night.
We arise at 4:30am to Wobby’s cell phone alarm pack it up and head to the Blue Ridge Parkway for the blessed sunrise over seemingly endless mountain ranges with the classic blue haze emitted from the trees. We take a quick but worthy side trip to Soco Falls near Maggy Valley, NC and proceed to The Great Smoky Mountains. I never found Mingo Falls near Cherokee, NC but we did see Wild Turkey and 2 adult male Elk before we ventured further in the Park. I have been to the Smokey’s 2 other times, but they were in late fall and early winter so I did not have the opportunity to go to Clingman’s Dome (the highest point in the park at 6600 ft / 2nd highest in the Eastern US). The skies were hazy for the majority of the trip in the mountains and the rest of Georgia. It could be the wild fires, pollution or some other factors we could not exactly tell. The sky at certain times would have been cloudless, but there remained a very unattractive grayish white layer over the expanse of the sky. In spite of this we still were awed at the incredible views from Clingman’s Dome. I think that this may be the potentially most dramatic view in the East. I have been to the highest point in the East (Mt Michelle in NC) and Clingman was better in my view. We walk a mile RT or so on the steep paved walk way to the summit. The views were so hazy I did not even take a snap shot.
On our way to Cades Cove the weather warmed up to the mid 90’s when I spot a waterfall tucked in between a small gorge some 50 yards from the main road. I turn around to scope the possibility of venturing to it. This is an unnamed waterfall as far as I know. There is no official trail to it. To reach it we scrambled a bit to reach the river from the road and then cross some swift currents before hiking up the creek in shallow water. As has been the case many a time before in similar circumstance when we were heading in people were heading out leaving the slice of paradise totally to ourselves. On the way out there were people heading in. The locals reported to us that the water was very cold, but we found it to be very comfortable and not overbearing at all. We gradually became bolder with this 20 ft freefalling water fall. At first I would get near enough to get good and splashed, and ultimately we were completely under the falls or semi behind it getting immersed and massaged. We were little kids (actually Wobby is a lil kid anyways) plashing and joyously playing in and around this unadvertised semi hidden gem in the Smokys.
We were supposed to camp in Cades Cove but the campground was full (no surprise) and all the other campgrounds in the area were booked also. In 2008 I had a pleasant experience staying in Townsend’s Econo Lodge so that is where we stayed the night. What was planned to be a 3 night camping trip turned out to be 1 night camping, 1 night hotel and an early return to Casselberry. The advantages of the hotel made me feel like we cheated. We had a soft bed, hot shower and most importantly peace & quite. Those campgrounds were going to be rowdy for sure this 4th of July weekend.
Now we are in an awful traffic jam in the 1 lane Cades Cove Road in the heat of the day. There was some hubbub up the road caused by the sighting of a mother bear and cub. The park ranger lady informed us that we just missed seeing it. I did not like this pattern I had experienced all too often. This has happened to me in various places where I just missed seeing a male moose, wolf, whale etc. We finally leave the nightmare traffic jam to attempt to find a camping spot near the Cherohala Skyway via Parson Road. We enter the unimproved 1 way rocky dirt road for what would have been 7 treacherous miles. An SUV (assumed 4WD) went ahead of our Altima. On the way up I thought it curious to see a man on a horse coming down the road. Wobby did not like the scenario at all. I thought it worth the risk at the time. A mile or so up the steepening road the SUV was seemingly stuck as it was spinning its wheels. We took this as our cue to forfeit the attempt and turn around on this narrow road. If the SUV had problems just a mile up the road there was no telling how bad it would get (especially with a recent report of a mud slide).
To my surprise there were two large trucks heading up this 1 way road as I was descending. I had to back up and find a part of the road that was slightly wider to allow the trucks to pass. As the 1st truck passed, the lady in the passenger seat said (in a scolding way) that our attempt “was a bad idea”. We left Parson Road with no more incidents only to get jammed up again in Cades Cove. We finally see our first bear in the woods (albeit a small one). We then had to cope with inconsiderate drivers that would not pull aside when stopped causing these nightmare traffic conditions. One driver in front of me came to a full stop refusing to pull over while there were no other cars in front of him. I beeped my horn which must have upset him. He then proceeded at about 5 mph as I tried to pass him on a pull out section. He then quickly accelerated to prevent me passing him. Once we were finally leaving the jam he was actually reporting me to a ranger lady directing traffic who seemed to be amused at his accusation and so dismissed the case. I wanted to give this man something more solid to report. The tattle tale was comical though.
We return to the Cove for sunset thinking the crowds have thinned out. It actually got worse. We eventually see more small bears and a mother bear with 2 small cubs after sunset. We saw scores of dear including a young buck near the road. I would love to return to this place in more favorable circumstances like; cooler temperatures, better skies (less haze) and most importantly without the hordes of wacky tourists.
It is now the last day and we find ourselves at an overlook post sunrise after an almost 2 hour trek in the dark on one of America’s most windy mountain roads. I then make a mistake by following the wrong road (Unpaved N. River Road) to reach a waterfall which I later found out to be a paved road simply called River Road. I almost skipped Bald River Falls found on this side road because I wanted to just make head way back to Casselberry. I obeyed my better instinct and turned around after passing the sign. It was very good and picturesque finish to the exploration. The falls are right of the side of the road and are relatively high and powerful.
I then continued to make the longest drive I had yet to do in one day. The drive started at 5am in Townsend, Tennessee and finished in Casselberry, Florida at 7pm taking the longer scenic route via Cherohala Skyway. During this drive the skies were mostly hazy and the temps were near 100 degrees. We received some good car washing rain showers along the way. When we arrived at Casselberry the temps dropped to the low 70’s due to the rain. The next day I arrive in Miami before 11am and go thru the unpacking routine. I then found out by chance and to my surprise that there were some small surfable waves in South Beach. I was at the beach surfing by noonday enjoying the rest of my off day. This was a good way to punctuate the journey.