Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Great Smoky Mountains Adventure Day 3 -- Into the Wild

[Composed 7/11/2019]

I'd been looking forward to today's adventure since we started planning this trip, nearly a year ago: hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). The forecast called for rain at 11am, so we had the kids up and out the door by 7am. Our goal was to hike up to Alum Cave, a 5 mile out and back hike that promised impressive views at the top.

About 10 minutes into the hike J. asked if I could carry him the rest of the way. Uh oh, I thought, this is going to be one long hike. But in truth, the kids did the 5 miles with almost no kvetching and with nearly boundless energy.

The trail was indeed a high quality one, with plenty of blooming Mountain-Laurel for me to take pictures of, an inviting creek to follow, funky one-railing bridges to cross and impressive views once we started to gain some elevation. The only wildlife of note we saw was an itty-bitty snake (perhaps 3 inches long?) another group of hikers had discovered at the 'cliffs.'

Both boys talked at length about Minecraft on the hike, and I don't know if I'm impressed or mortified at the quantity of natural knowledge they've gained through this game. We talked about bedrock, rock hardness, tool selection and ecosystems in general all by way of the game. The designers of this game have made a world that necessarily educates kids, though I want them to be more impressed with the rocks in front of them than the rocks they see on screen. Speaking of rocks, someone is no doubt going to come across a circle of rocks the boys created; a sort of mini-Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, the discoverer of this layout of rocks may come up with any number of theories for their positioning: were the boys trying to leave a message? Or maybe create a navigation or time telling aid? Perhaps they were casting a spell to get our hike to end sooner? Nope, they were explaining a critical Minecraft concept to me, one that went whizzing over my head. Though I was impressed with their use of visual aids.

We got back to the car after 11am and the sun was still shining. Let's hike some more!

We made our way to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the GSMNP, and the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. The closer we drove to the Dome, the thicker and grayer the cloud cover was. By the time we arrived at the parking lot, visibility was almost nil, as we found ourselves in thick fog. The kids hiked the .5 mile up to the Dome with urgency, as we could hear thunder in the distance. We made it to the foot of the Dome and the rain began. Fortunately, we'd come prepared with umbrellas. We took a few limited-visibility pics at the top of the Dome and scurried back to our car in the rain.

It wasn't the most leisurely trip to Clingman's Dome, and I'd hoped to hike some of the AT in the area. But alas, mother nature had other plans.

After logging 6 miles, we called it a day and headed back to our Airbnb. We arrived in a full fledged downpour, the weather forecast had only been off by an hour or two.

At home, J. finished building Yoda's Starfighter. D. had finished building Anakin's Starfighter the day before. It was an interesting study to watch them build. D. had laser focus, knocking out the steps of the building process one by one. J. took a more fun-based approach: build some, play some, repeat. Everytime I'd come over to "rescue" J., helping him with the next step, I found that he knew exactly what to do. He wasn't stuck, he was just having fun. Both approaches to building legos were great, and it was fascinating to see them in action. I love Legos, but I'm often critical of the price-to-output ratio. That is, they're always a bit more expensive than I think they should be. But in this case, I found both of these sets priced quite reasonably: at around $20 each, they were both quite complex, and came with valuable minifigures. I stand impressed.

Tomorrow's all about trying to catch sight of some bears in the wild. I've tried not to get the kids' hopes up, but it's probably too late.

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