Armchair Travel: Globetrotting
Great Smoky Mountains National Park abounds in Appalachia history. While searching for doors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, our family experienced some unforgettable encounters, which could be referred to as doors of opportunity.
A semi-circle rainbow glowed outside our hotel window after a brief thunderstorm on our arrival. On our hike to Rainbow Falls, we sat down at a small waterfall ready to picnic, only to discover Rainbow Falls cascaded up the trail another half mile. Arriving at Rainbow Falls, we witnessed a marriage proposal. She said “yes!” Hiking back in sweltering humidity, a large buck grazing off trail inspired us to continue to our car.
Our hike to Grotto Falls took us along the Trillium Gap Trail, on which the llama train travels to supply LeConte Lodge®. We carefully stepped over evidence of the train along the trail, but never saw the llamas. We returned to the trailhead another evening to capture this weekly event, but only fed mosquitoes as we waited.
Hiking the rocky, uphill grade in the first two miles to Charlies Bunion as rain fell tempted us to turn back. We well remembered our hike to the summit of Mt. LeConte last year when an icy, drenching rain on the descent left us shivering and muscle sore.
We kept hiking and were treated to a break in the fog that provided iconic blue mountain vistas. A “boomer,” as locals call American red squirrels, cavorted through the thick brush on the edge of the trail, hoping for handouts. Boomer found something to eat and posed on top of the high rocky outcrop that gives this trail its name. Five minutes later, a dense fog made it dangerous to step even a foot off the trail.
Our daughter has often heard the story of the mama black bear and two cubs we saw (from afar!) in the Great Smokies when I was pregnant with her. The mama bear promptly sent the cubs up a nearby tree, and to see them climbing in their natural habitat created a special memory.
On this trip, our daughter experienced a bear tale all her own. Late in the evening, she made a phone call at the hotel’s outdoor lounge area that borders a rocky creek. She heard shouts from the hot tub, and looked up to realize she was staring at a small black bear. She immediately backed up to the hotel building. The bear ambled among the rocks and sat in the middle of the creek. A larger black bear came splashing downstream, chasing the smaller bear into the woods on the opposite bank.
The craftsmanship and tenacity of the settlers in this region can be seen in these buildings that continue to stand amidst the forest beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Memories of a journey to Grand Canyon National Park include:
- Watching a sunrise at Mather Point.
- Discovering a “water bottle filling station” near Verkamp’s Visitor Center that provided water from Roaring Springs, the park’s approved water supply. These water stations are located throughout the park.
- Viewing sections of Bright Angel Trail, Indian Gardens and Phantom Ranch from the South Rim Trail.
- Driving “through the clouds” on adventure afield to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and Horseshoe Bend (Glen Canyon National Recreational Area). We experienced fog, rain, sleet, wind, sunshine and rainbows as we drove through the cliffs and canyons of northern Arizona.
- Climbing a small mesa at Horseshoe Bend for a unique viewpoint of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River.
- Viewing various artist renderings of the Grand Canyon in Kolb Studio and Lookout Studio.
- Exploring Hopi House and its Native American architecture.
- Watching (carefully, from a distance) Grand Canyon elk families munch grasses and shrubs along the South Rim Trail.
- Discovering the Historic Village Livery where the Grand Canyon pack mules await their next trail ride.