It's all about the creek…and the mountains

Clingman’s Dome

Clingmans Dome might be one of most famous landmarks on the Appalachian Trail in the region of the Great Smoky Mountains and is the highest point along the entire length of the AT.  At a towering 6,643 feet, it is the highest peak in the Smokies and the third highest peak east of the Mississippi. 

What you need to know for a visit to Clingmans Dome… 
Make sure you’ve eaten your Wheaties for breakfast and you’ll be ready to climb the steep half-mile walk to the Dome’s observation tower. At 54-feet tall, the observation tower will give you a 360-degree panorama view of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re an early riser, plan to arrive at sunrise for one of the most spectacular shows Mother Nature can offer, when visibility on a clear day can be up to 100 miles distant. Or, head over in the late afternoon and take in the sunset, equally beautiful. You’ll find a terrific visitors center as well as restrooms in the parking lot area. Note that the trail to the tower is too steep to be wheelchair accessible. Pets and bicycles are not permitted on this or any other trails in the area. Opening day in 2019 is Saturday, March 30, weather permitting. 

The road to Clingmans Dome is normally closed from December 1 until April 1.  Opening day in 2019 is Saturday, March 30, weather permitting.

If you’re lucky, you might even get the thrill of an up-close-and-personal experience with some of the Park’s residents!

clingmans dome
clingmans dome
Clingmans Dome

The Tusquittee Valley

Tusquittee Valley

First, let’s learn where the name “Tusquittee” came from…

“Where the Water Dogs Laughed”

salamander

According to folklore, a Cherokee hunter crossing over Tusquittee Bald in a very dry season, heard voices, and creeping silently toward the place from which the sound proceeded, peeped over a rock and saw two water-dogs walking together on their hind legs along the trail and talking as they went. Their pond had dried up and they were on the way over to Nantahala river. As he listened one said to the other, “Where’s the water? I’m so thirsty that my apron (gills) hangs down,” and then both water-dogs laughed.

But what exactly is a “Water Dog”?  The cool forests and plentiful rivers, streams and creeks of our little corner of the mountains of Appalachia make it the perfect home to more salamander species than any other part of the world. Appalachia may be known for many things: its music, its industry, its culture, but what about its salamanders? It turns out, of the 550 known salamander species in the world, 77 can be found in this mountainous area, more than any other one region in the world. Many of them can only be found there. Here at Casa on the Creek, you can walk just steps from your cabin and begin your search for these elusive creatures right in Tusquittee Creek as well as the smaller branch that runs through the property.

And now, what’s so special about the Tusquittee Valley,
or as we like to say, “our little corner of the mountains…”

Here’s what The Blue Ridge Highlander has to say:
The Tusquittee Valley located north of the town Hayesville is likely the most beautiful of the three.  Enclosed by high mountain ranges and dissected through its center by the Tusquittee Creek, Tusquittee Valley is by far something quite unique.  Most certainly this mountain valley is a prize-winning photo opportunity at every turn.  A mostly residential community this quiet serene mountain valley is revered by both its residents and regional mountain neighbors as well as visitors the Clay County. Our subdivision, called Tusquittee Landing, incorporates a 2700 foot grass airstrip. Most people assume the “Landing” refers to the airplanes landing. However, it actually is a carryover from the days where the mules dragged logs down from the forest to a landing on Goldmine Creek. The logs were then moved down the creek to Tusquittee Creek and eventually to the sawmill.

Tusquittee Valley
Tusquittee Valley
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Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

joyce_kilmer_forest

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is one of the country’s  most impressive remnants of old-growth forest. The forest contains magnificent examples of more than 100 tree species, many over 400-years-old, and some more than 20 feet in circumference and 100 feet tall. The forest is part of the Joyce Kilmer-Slick Rock Wilderness and is maintained in its primitive state. This 3,800-acre forest was set aside in 1936 as a memorial to the author of the poem “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in action in France during World War I.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
 
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
 
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
 
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
 
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
joyce_kilmer_forest

If you’re looking for an easy, family-friendly hike in the woods, then look no further than the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Robbinsville. Take this two-mile hike to see poplar, hemlock, red and white oak, basswood, beech and sycamore. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is home to some of the oldest and largest trees to be found anywhere east of the Mississippi. The forest is a rare example of an old growth cove hardwood forest, an extremely diverse forest type unique to our area of the Appalachians.  Home to poplar, hemlock, red and white oak, basswood, beech and sycamore, some of the trees are more than 400 years old and rise to heights of over 100 ft. and have circumferences of up to 20 ft.! 

Joyce Kilmer Forest
Joyce Kilmer Forest

The Plight of the Hemlocks
Unfortunately, hemlock trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest have become infested with a non-native invasive insect pest, the hemlock woolly adelgid. This aphid-like insect feeds on the hemlock’s sap. To enhance safety while hiking, forest rangers have felled many dead trees. As this is a wilderness area, the trees were taken down in a way that mimics the effects of wind or ice storms. Explosives were used to bring down the dead hemlocks instated of saws, so they appear to have fallen from nature’s forces. The stumps and logs were not removed, but left to decay naturally. You will see several large dead hemlocks still standing.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is located about 15 miles from Robbinsville in the western part of Graham County adjacent to Lake Santeetlah. From Robbinsville, take Highway 129 north for 1.5 miles to the junction with Highway 143 west (Massey Branch Road). Turn left and proceed west on Highway 143 for approximately 5 miles to a stop sign. Turn right onto Kilmer Road. You will drive for about 7.3 miles and arrive at the top of Santeetlah Gap and the junction with the Cherohala Skyway. Bear to your right and continue on for another 2.5 miles to the entrance of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Turn left into the entrance and it is about 1/2-mile to the parking area. There are picnic tables, grills and restrooms.

Waterfalls – Whitewater Falls

Okay, here’s a quiz – what’s the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies? 
And where can you find it?
Get ready to explore our area’s waterfalls!

It’s Whitewater Falls on the Whitewater River in the Jocassee Gorge area of Jackson County, NC, not far from the town of Cashiers.  Located close the NC/SC state line, Whitewater’s upper falls plunge over 400 feet, making Whitewater Falls the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.  And just over the border in South Carolina is the lower falls, another 200+ foot spectacular.  Located just south of the town of Cashiers (Highway 64-east), a day trip to visit the both waterfalls, driving through the beautiful mountains and scenery of the Nantahala National Forest, is sure to make memories to last a lifetime.

Whitewater Falls is located in an escarpment of the Nantahala National Forest, and because of the escarpment’s difficult access and rugged, rocky terrain, this area receives fewer visitors than other more popular sights along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The area has remained wild and undeveloped and offers a perfect getaway into the majesty and tranquility of the woods.  Wander along some of the trails in these cool moist woods and you’ll find wildflowers and ferns in abundance. In the springtime, enjoy the flowery show of wild rhododendrons and flame azaleas in bloom. Hike along trails that follow steep slopes to rock cliffs offering vistas of the mountain ranges near and far.

But the highlight of a visit to the Nantahala forest is your first view of magnificent Whitewater Falls. In a series of waterfalls and cascades on the Whitewater River in North Carolina and South Carolina, the river traverses more than 3.5 miles across the state line between the upper falls (NC) and the lower falls (SC).

The best views of the falls are from the two overlooks, accessed from the parking area. Follow the paved, wheelchair accessible walkway from the end of the parking lot to the overlook for the upper falls.  The walkway can generally be managed by people of all ages, from babies to grannies.  Continues down a long wooden staircase to a lower overlook for another view of the falls.

The hike: More energetic hikers can continue down the half-mile spur trail that drops 600 feet in elevation to the Whitewater River and Foothills Trail. As of this writing, the trail was considered difficult due to washouts and large amounts of debris.  Many people follow the Foothills Trail for the hike experience, as the views of the falls at the bottom can sometimes be obscured by overhanging limbs and foliage.

The video below provides a great overview of both the upper and lower falls and a good idea of what to expect if you decide to hike the Foothills Trail from one to the other.

Fairy Dances at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

synchronous fireflies

Synchronous Fireflies Doing Their Thing...

Perhaps you’ve heard of the dance of the fireflies that occurs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) every springtime. The park is home to a unique species of firefly called Photinus carolinus, or the “synchronous firefly”.  During the mating season in late spring, the males and females engage in a mating ritual—some call it “the fairy dance” – where it appears that the fireflies are blinking in unison.  This light show attracts thousands of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and specifically to the Cataloochee Valley area at the east end of the park. 

The fireflies are at the height of their mating and their flashing activity is at its peak during a two-week period between mid-May and mid-June.  On cool nights (below 50º Fahrenheit) and on misty evening following rain, the flashing may be greatly reduced or altogether absent.  The GSMNP posts the dates online and thousands of visitors, flashlights in hand, descend upon the area of the Cataloochee valley for the lightshow.  

If you’d like to add this to your bucket list of must-see events here in our little corner of the mountains, here’s some helpful hints on the when/how/where of the GSMNP “fairy dance”.

First, and most importantly, let’s review some do’s and don’ts for visitors: 

Light Show Etiquette
Flashlights disrupt the fireflies and impair people’s night vision. The light show is best when you:
– Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane. 
– Use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot.
– Point your flashlight at the ground.|
– Turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot.

You can also help protect the fireflies and their habitat:
– Do not catch the fireflies.
– Stay on the trail at all times.
– Pack out all of your garbage.

If you go…
It is essential that you seek out official, detailed information about visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in order to see the synchronous fireflies by going to their website.  A lottery system has been put in place to manage the flow of visitors heading to the park within a short two-week period.  

synchronous fireflies
synchronous fireflies

Here’s a bit more of the science and entomology of these unique fireflies (from Wikipedia)…
“Photinus carolinus was the first North American species found to show synchronized flashing behavior. Synchronized flashing by male fireflies is common in South Asia, where huge aggregates of males perch on specific trees to create a bright display of flashing. The synchronized flashing of P. carolinus males occurs in aggregates of flying fireflies.  The timing of flashing depends somewhat on temperature, but the flash pattern of a male P. carolinus is typically four to eight very bright flashes emitted over two to four seconds, followed by a dark period of eight to 12 seconds. The female reply is much less bright, a pulsed signal during the dark period of the male. Scientists have suggested one reason for the synchronized flashing is to create a synchronized dark period, during which males can search for female responses without being distracted by signals from other males.”

But whatever the reason, the result of their mating is the dazzling light show
displayed by their synchronized flashing.

A Blooming Affair At Hamilton Gardens

Azalea orange
Azalea orange
Garden bench
Rhododendron

If it’s springtime, it’s a Blooming Festival at Hamilton Gardens!  Yes, Spring has finally arrived in all its splendor here in our little corner of the mountains and with springtime’s warm sunny days and cool comes the colorful and aromatic show of blooms from the plentiful rhododendrons and azaleas that blanket the area.  There’s no better place to see this magnificent display of flowering trees and shrubs than at Hamilton Gardens.  Just outside of Hiawassee, GA, Hamilton Gardens is located within the grounds of the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.  Covering more than 33 acres, this woodland garden paradise is the largest collection of rhododendrons in the Southeast.  It is listed by the State of Georgia as a botanical garden and lives up to its name through the diversity of native wildflowers, plants, shrubs and trees scattered throughout the grounds.  You’ll find wildflowers such as Trilliums, Shooting Stars, Wild Ginger, Trout Lilies, May apples and Solomon’s Seal tucked in and around the paths and walkways. The gardens are a truly unique venue to see and experience the best of southeastern flora.  But what makes this garden really special are the more than 1,500 rhododendrons and native azaleas within its borders. There are as many as 400 varieties of rhododendrons in the garden—the show of blooms is amazing and quite memorable, coming in all sizes, shapes and colors.

Although the best time to visit the garden to view the springtime blooms is from mid-April to mid-May (depending on local weather conditions), the garden is open year-round and offers a wonderful opportunity for a quiet walk on well-groomed paths surrounded by nature.  The trails wind through the garden, surrounded by the lush foliage and offering glimpses of Lake Chatuge and the nearby mountains (see if you can spot the tower atop Brasstown Bald!).  Guided walking and golf-cart tours are available by appointment. If you visit during the spring season, be sure to stop by the greenhouse – you might just find that perfect plant to take home.

 

If you’re lucky enough to be in our little corner of the mountains in late May, be sure to take in the very special “Full Moon Concert” being held at the gardens on May 29th at 6:30pm in the Pavilion (rain or shine). Entertainment will be provided by musician Teddy Baker, known for his songs about the wonder of life, love, and stories from a life filled with passion, faith, listening to others and an undying love for writing  music!

Hamilton Gardens is open year-round, from 8am until dusk.  Admission to the gardens is free of charge most of the year with a small fee during the rhododendron blooming season. There is a donation box available for maintaining the gardens by the local Lions Club for year-round guests.  No pets allowed.