Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The Great Smoky Mountains Adventure Day 4 -- Bears and Butterflies

[Composed 7/12/2019]

Today's big adventure was exploring Cades Cove, a drivable loop in the Great Smokey Mountains. Considering the hours we'd be in the car to get to and tour the area, we considered bailing on this trip. J got car sick yesterday, and the thought of traversing more windy roads had me nervous. Besides, it was a drive through a valley, how worthwhile could it be?

In short: very. Within 10 minutes of starting the loop we hit a back-up of cars. Oooh, I exclaimed, this is good! This means people are stopping their cars to check something out. We hopped out and got our first glimpse of a bear. It was lazily walking along the road ahead. In a moment the trip became worth it.

Our first official stop was at Oliver Cabin where we got out and explored the small cabin. Kudos to J for busting out his flashlight and climbing into the dark and spooky loft. D was a little apprehensive, but soon found his courage. This was the first of a number of historic buildings we'd see that day. The cabins, barns and other curious structures were a nice addition to the natural beauty we encountered.

We continued around the loop until we hit another massive back-up of cars. We leapt out hoping we'd see more bears and were amply rewarded. There, 50+ yards away were a family of bears romping through a field. We could see little puffs of black fur as the cubs bobbed up and down in the long grass. One of the adults stood on its hind legs, no doubt confused as to what we were all looking at.

From this bear sighting we continued on our way to the Abrams Falls trail head. The kids knocked out the 2.5 mile hike to the falls with no difficulty even though it was more challenging than I expected. The falls were gorgeous, though sadly the area around it is off limits to swimming. After lunch we explored the falls and surrounding area. The kids found a collection of deeply pitted rocks that were filled with water. These formed something akin to tide pools. D noticed a swarm of tadpoles in the water and worked tirelessly to get pics. In the end, with a little help from my keychain flashlight, he managed to capture some impressive shots. Kudos to him for not giving up.

As we crossed back over the first bridge to head out of the area, a beautiful black and blue butterfly landed on J's foot. We marveled at the creature and I snapped copious number of photos. D explained that he wanted to get a butterfly to land on his finger. I gently explained to D that's not how nature worked. He was unimpressed with my explanation and remained insistent he could do this.

15 minutes later we crossed a bridge and Shira noticed a moth on the railing and told D about it. She had D extend his finger and ever so gently approach the creature. To my surprise, the moth climbed on to D's hand. Assuming this Kodak moment would be fleeting, I quickly grabbed a handful of pictures. Surprisingly, the moth didn't flee. We continued on our hike, and to my surprise the moth hung on.

We had time to brainstorm a name for our hitchhiker and arrived at Lucky. D asked if he could keep Lucky. I jokingly said that was up to Lucky. Though I quickly regretted this answer as Lucky seemed to have found a new BFF and D was making plans to have him as his new roommate. For a good 45 minutes D carefully walked with Lucky on his hand. D noticed that ever so slowly Lucky was walking up and down his hand, almost certainly slurping up the salt in his sweat. This is actually a thing and is named mud-puddling. I'm not sure if it was the fact that it started to rain or whether Lucky's tummy was full, but he did eventually part ways with us. We were all a little sad to see him go. For my part, I was reminded that nature doesn't always play by the rules I expect it to.

After our hike, we hit Cable Mill where we got to explore more historic buildings. The kids peppered one young living history guide with question after question. The guide answered all 1,000 or so questions patiently and with a smile on his face. I was delighted and impressed with how professional this young guide acted.

From there it was a short drive out of Cades Cove and then we made the long journey back to our Airbnb. Between the views, wildlife, hiking and historic buildings, Cades Cove was absolutely a winner. It's considered a Smokey Mountains gem, and it's absolutely worth the hype.

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