Monday, December 31, 2012

What I Did On My Thanksgiving Vacation Part 2

This past Thanksgiving I accompanied my parents and sister's family on vacation (for the first time since I was in college) to scenic Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where the seven of us spent five days together in a cabin/house. 

You can read all about Part 1 of this experience here.

Here's one of those rare "Tennessee Ruler Trees" you hear about so much about but rarely ever get to see. This particular straight-edge of a tree was located right in the driveway of our cabin/house. It was so perfectly straight in fact that the owners of the house decided to use it as a light pole.

Here's a couple more Ruler Trees on the opposite side of the driveway.

Here's a shot of the mountain road in front of our cabin/house. As you can see it rises at a pretty steep angle. Our cabin/house was about halfway up the mountain, and each time we drove up it we could smell burning rubber coming from our tires, caused (we theorized) from the wheels constantly turning back and forth on the road.

Trivia: There's no word for "flat" in Tennessee as everything there is at an extreme angle. Things are either above you or below you, as illustrated here by our neighbor's homes.

During our stay my sister and brother-in-law and I decided to explore the Tennessee landscape and visit a local waterfall, accessible only by scenic trail. We tried to get my nephews Alphonse and Fran├žois to join us but they couldn't tear their gazes away from the siren's call of the internet and Fruit Ninja. Kids today!

The trail looks deserted here but there were actually quite a few people coming and going along it. We noticed many people were carrying fancy high tech "walking staffs" as they made their way up the trail. Of course we mercilessly mocked them for owning such a silly affectation. Then after about ten minutes of walking up the steep route we all kind of wished we had walking staffs too.

Hey, don't go anywhere! There's lots of scenery to see after the jump!

This trail was paved, sort of, and wound its way up the side of a mountain to the falls. It wasn't as high up as the trail leading to Clingmans Dome (that we visited a couple of days earlier) so there was plenty of oxygen for us to breathe this time.

The only problem with this trail was that it was narrow and the sides of it were weathered and crumbly, a deadly combination for someone like me who suffers from weak ankles.

This sign ain't lyin.' 

Going up the trail the landscape rose near vertically above us on the right and there was a deep, dangerous abyss of a cliff on the left. The cliff didn't just go straight down, it actually went in, like an undercut. So if you fell off the trail you wouldn't roll down the cliff, you'd fall freely through the air until you smashed into the ground far below.

My Brother-In-Law the Comedian, tempting fate.

Here's one thing you don't see a lot where I'm from: boulders in the woods! In fact I don't think I've ever seen so much as a pebble in the forests near me. Some of these Tennessee boulders were absolutely huge, the size of used Buicks even.

Here's a shot of the woods above and to the right of the trail. I was hoping I wouldn't see any of the house-sized boulders tumbling toward us.

If you look closely you'll see another rare sight: a gnarled pine savagely wrapping its tentacles around the trunk of an unsuspecting tree.

More of the spectacular scenery along the trail.

Um... no, I did not kill this bear. In fact it's far more likely that the sign should say just the opposite: Did This Bear Kill Me?

As we were walking up the trail I saw this rocky outcropping and thought it looked exactly like an old craggy face. As I look at it now though I can see it looks like no such thing. Maybe a face sculpted by Picasso, but definitely nothing resembling a human countenance. I guess you had to be there. Or I should have worn my glasses.

After half an hour or so of trail walking we reached the falls. They had a name, but darned if I can remember it now that I'm safely a month and 700 miles away from it.

Some views from the top and bottom of the falls. That water was incredibly ice cold.

I risked life and limb to climb down to the bottom of the falls in slick, inappropriate-for-hiking shoes to get this shot, so I expect you to stare at it and appreciate it for at least five minutes.

Me doing my best to block out the falls with my giant head.

"There! That ought to indemnify us against any injury lawsuits!" said Ranger Smith on his first day on the job.

My sister blithely ignoring the warning sign behind her, sitting at the top of the falls.

Another view of the falls.

One last view of the falls before we headed back down the trail.

My turn to be a comedian! At one point along the trail I considered sticking my arm under a small boulder and recreating scenes from the movie 127 Hours, but then I thought that given my usual luck, karma would step in and my arm really would get stuck and a bunch of bystanders would end up having to amputate it with a pair of nail clippers, so I decided to just act like I was rock climbing instead.

And yes, I'm wearing the same clothes I had on back in Part 1. That's because I packed mostly winter clothing, not taking into account that we were heading south and the temperature would be 70┬║ or more every day. So I only had one warm weather ensemble.

As we were walking back down to the car, the combination of the trails's aforementioned crumbly edges and my aforementioned weak ankles caused me to fall down hard, almost toppling over the edge of the cliff (that's the view over the edge in the photo above). 

I fell down good and proper, and I'd like to sincerely apologize for dropping a big F-Bomb in front of my sister and brother-in-law, all the children, church groups and foreign vacationers on the trail, as well as the silver-haired older gentleman who walks up to the falls every day. Hey, what can I say, I yell things like that whenever I'm shown a glimpse of my death.

I skinned my hands, knees and leg up pretty good when I fell; here's a shot of my leg after it finally stopped bleeding.

Later in the day after I staunched my bleeding limb we visited scenic downtown Gatlinburg for some shopping. I was impressed with the array of homes located far above the city. You just know those things are jutting out the side of the mountain, supported by nothing more than a couple of wobbly posts. Hopefully there's no seismic activity around here.

We saw this in downtown Gatlinburg as well. So that's where they stored it! I guess it's true what they say, the best hiding place really is right in plain sight.

Still later we drove through a State Park on a driving trail, which I didn't know was a thing. At one point along the route there was a big commotion and all the cars ahead of us were stopped and people were craning their necks out their windows to the right.

We found out from a Park Ranger that there was a bear in the area. That's allegedly the bear in the photo above.

Everyone around us was oohing and ahhing at the "bear" in their midst and couldn't believe their good luck at spotting one. I don't know... it was so far away it could have been anything. A big dog, a cardboard cutout or even some low-paid park employee wearing a bear suit.

Alphonse was not impressed.

Coming up in What I Did On My Thanksgiving Vacation Part 3: Spoiler alert! We get a much closer view of a bear!

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