2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

One Year Fulltiming!


Leaving Colorado 1

Leaving Colorado 2It’s true, we’ve now passed the one-year mark since we began our journey.  It has been a rich and full experience and yet time has passed very quickly.

Before I forget, I’ll answer a question that was asked just before we left:  What if we don’t like it?  Well, we love it.  Even though the first time I woke up in Island Girl knowing that I’d be living here for a while, my first thought was – What have I done? – I quickly came to love it and have never looked back.Isl Grl Redo  004

In fact, I was surprised at how easily I adjusted, particularly to the confined quarters. Hector and I decorated our new little 400 square foot home just as we had our other homes, and we really enjoy our interior space.

And we’re also really happy with our upgrades and our custom office space.   Hector is able to work on his Apple computer (the photographer gets the big computer) in our comfy chair by the desk, while I work on our laptop on our comfy couch simultaneously.halifax

Island Girl feels downright roomy with her 39’ length, and we have plenty of storage space.

And the journey has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve spent quality time with friends and family across the country, many of whom we’d not seen in waaay too long.  And other friends have come to visit.

Along the way we’ve also met lots of different people, learned new things, and just enjoyed spending quality time together.  We’ve visited a total of 14 states, including parts of the Midwest, South and Northeast.

We’ve experienced the lovely Arkansas autumn, Buffalo National River  024the fabulous gulf coast of Florida,Henderson Beach   080

the wild and subtle beauty of the Everglades,flower  024

and the wilder side of Florida in general. Ft Myers  056

We returned to the “black” waters of the Okefenokee Swamp,Swamp 011

and to the Great Smoky Mountains.Smokies  007

We visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, OBX  055

and spent the beginning of our summer on the breathtaking coast of Maine.Penobscot  169

keys  021We traveled to extreme opposites; in Key West, Florida, we stood at the southernmost point of the U.S.sunset  027

And months later made it to the furthest northeast state of Maine.boothbay harbor  095

We spent just under 12 weeks in Canada, where we visited four provinces and learned a ton about our neighbor to the north.

There we saw the amazing tides of the Fundy Coast,New Brunswick117

the unique rock formations and the beautiful lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove,peggy 25

and the rugged beauty of Cape Breton Island.cape breton  030cape breton  011We traveled to the southern tip of Nova Scotia, brier 50along the gorgeous landscapes of Prince Edward Island,

PEI  161

and the spectacular Gaspé Peninsula,Perce  073

where we visited its Northern Gannet colony in Ile de Bonaventure.Perce  049

We saw the whales of the St. Lawrence River,st lawrence  115

and took many walks around beautiful Québec City.quebec city  046

And Angel visited rivers, lakes, rocky and sandy beaches, forests, went boating on various boats and ferries, and even went whale watching.River Dog  006

In total, Island Girl traveled 8,534 miles this first year.

And Hector and I have grown even closer during this journey.  Living together in such tight quarters can bring out the best or the worst in couples and sometimes both.  We’ve been married for a very long time and are very comfortable spending lots of of our time together while traveling.  Even after all of that we had a few grumpy patches along the road, but ultimately found our groove.

And, interestingly, some of the working aspects of RVing helped us to strengthen our partnership.  I named a previous post about leaving and arriving at our destinations “The Departure Dance”.  And I really do believe that there is a choreography that you both create and “perform” on a regular basis.  But it’s important that the choreography feels right for both of you.

That extends to the day-to-day chores and responsibilities as well.  Learning to support each other in a way that takes into account each of your likes, dislikes, talents and skills can make the journey much more enjoyable.

Rv Repair SedaliaAnd, not surprising to any RVers out there, we’ve discovered that things tend to go wrong in the most inconvenient of times.

The first time was on the first week we were on the road, when our water inlet broke.  Another time, our refrigerator broke down on a Sunday, the day before we planned to cross the border into Canada.

The first Hector fixed himself, the second, we found someone who was able to fix it.  But we learned that when things go wrong (not if, but when), we should:

  • Stay calm
  • Ask for advice and/or help, there is a very helpful community out there
  • Be flexible
  • Have or make a plan B

footAt the same time, it’s been difficult to be away from most of our friends and family in Denver, and we really miss them.  But we can always visit and plan to soon.

And there have been other challenges along the way; minor medical issues and having to figure out which doctor to go to in unfamiliar places.  The same for finding veterinarians.

And, less critical challenges like not having access to cell phones, internet or TV (sometimes a good thing) in some places.

But right now we wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything else.  And we are continually learning and growing.  For me this blog has been a huge learning experience.  I’m not the most tech savvy person, and when we began this blog, we knew nothing about blogging.  But I took on the task of figuring out how to get started, and spent several frustrating weeks using the process of elimination to figure out certain aspects of the blog.

Well, we just passed the 100 post mark on the blog.  And it’s is another example of working as a team.  Hector is in charge of the photography, I write the posts.  Then we combine the two.  From organizing how to divide the subjects to creating the final product, we support each other.   Sometimes we collaborate from the beginning, other times we work independently and get together at the end. The blog is another choreography.

departures  009

When I started writing this post, Hector wrote me a little note with some numbers and fun facts from the year.  He ended the note with “i love you still”.  And I feel the same way.

And the journey continues.

~ Brenda

Shifting Sands

ocracoke  012ocracoke  002ocracoke  001ocracoke  004ocracoke  005ocracoke  043There is no bridge connecting Ocracoke Island to the rest of the Outer Banks nor to the mainland.  But for those of us who don’t have our own boat or plane, there is ferry service from Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks and from Swan Quarter on the mainland.

From Hatteras, the ferry is free and operates on the hour in non-peak season and on the half hour in peak season between 5 a.m. and midnight.   What a great service.  And since this is the only way to get from the Outer Banks to Ocracoke, this ferry serves both locals and tourists.  On the day we visited the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, we attempted to take the ferry around lunchtime only to find that we’d have to wait about two hours.  One ferry had broken down and, since service vehicles get priority there was quite a line for us regular folks.  We knew in advance of the possibility that we might not make it onto the ferry and had a plan B to visit the Ocracoke, so we bailed.

On our second try, we took Angel along just in case we got stuck on the Ocracoke side and had a long wait.  We’d learned that the ferry ride time had increased from 40 minutes to an hour each way because of a massive sandbar created by Hurricane Sandy.   They’ve been dredging it and making slow progress.  Life on the Outer Banks.

It’s quite bizarre to be looking straight at your island destination and watch the ferry turn sharply away from it only to come back around.  But we were fortunate to have good weather and it was a very pleasant ride.  And, although pets are allowed to leave the car on leash, Angel rode in the car happily with the windows open, and I stayed nearby to make sure she was ok.  Her first ferry ride! ocracoke  009ocracoke  034ocracoke  010We got to Ocracoke and rode out to town to see the Ocracoke Lighthouse, first on our list. This is North Carolina’s oldest operating lighthouse.  The present tower was built in 1822, after various other structures were rendered useless by, you guessed it, shifting sands.  It’s yet another great lighthouse, all four of the lighthouses on the Outer Banks are distinct from each other, and this one is paintted all white.  It’s quite beautiful in its simplicity.  The lighthouse keeper’s house is now a (great) private home adjacent to the lighthouse.  How cool to live next door to a working lighthouse.ocracoke  014ocracoke  015 ocracoke  011ocracoke  024Since Angel was still in initial recovery (eight weeks total, this was the seventh) from her ACL surgery, we rented a golf cart to explore Ocracoke.  The town is best explored on foot, bicycle or golf cart, and opportunities to rent bicycles and golf carts are plentiful.

Off we went in our golf cart – Angel’s first golf cart ride!  We toured the cute shops and the waterfront and had lunch at a waterfront restaurant with a deck that allows dogs.  Angel, of course, is used to accompanying us to outdoor restaurants  and was quite the lady. ocracoke  018ocracoke  025Did I mention the great local seafood available in the Outer Banks?  Blue fish, crab, scallops, dolphin, trout, mahi-mahi, grouper and some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had.  Yum! ocracoke  026ocracoke  021ocracoke  030ocracoke  019ocracoke  031ocracoke  032ocracoke  029ocracoke  020ocracoke  023ocracoke  022After lunch, we toured around a bit more then it was time to head back.  We wanted to avoid a possible long wait and so planned to take the ferry back well before five.  No problem.  Angel and I napped in the car on the ride back, there was such a nice breeze! ocracoke  042ocracoke  037ocracoke  035ocracoke  039ocracoke  036ocracoke  038ocracoke  040This was our last night in the Outer Banks, so we stowed our stuff  said farewell to some nice neighbors and prepared for our departure the next day. ocracoke  041

Early the next morning, the three of us went for one last walk on the beach.  It was kind of a cloudy morning and when it started sprinkling we headed back to the coach.fruit  112angel  111 As we got back the sun came out.   Then, while we were hooking up the car, it started to rain. once again. rain  113As we drove north on N.C. 12 towards the bridge to the mainland, we drove over a section of sand that had spilled over on the road from the dunes.  This place of shifting sands and changing weather intrigues me.  I think I’ll come back one day.

~ Brendasunset  114

Kitty Hawk and the Problem of Flying

2013-05-12 at 16-49-35`“…for the wind is a treacherous fellow who follows his own inclinations and laughs at our art”.

From “The Problem of Flying” Otto Lilienthal, 1893.

Man has always looked up at the birds and dreamt of flying.  From Daedalus and his wings of wax and feathers and his ill fated son Icarus in Greek mythology to da Vinci’s 1485 Ornithopter and countless other references in fiction and science flight has been both a dream and a challenge.

2013-05-12 at 16-30-512013-05-12 at 16-38-43Here in the windy Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk (today it is actually the neighboring village of Kill Devil Hills) man actually took to the air under their own power for the first time.  And fittingly there is a beautiful monument to mark the spot and honor the men who did it.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial.2013-05-12 at 16-34-072013-05-12 at 16-15-472013-05-12 at 16-37-51

LeBris1868More_otho_flyingIn the late 1800s, there were many practical efforts to solve the problems required for a successful flying machine.  There were several scientific journals (ie. The Aeronautical Annual, “Devoted to the encouragement of experiment with aerial machines and to the advancement of the science of aerodynamics”). Langley, Lilienthal, Whitehead and many others made all manner of beautiful and elaborate contraptions that were able to glide and advanced knowledge but without ultimate success.


1901 Glider

The challenges of flight can basically be boiled down to three things: lift, propulsion, and stability.  The Wright brothers’ approach was to solve these systematically.  They started with kites to help refine the shapes for lift.  They built a wind tunnel (a first) to measure the effectiveness of the various wing shapes.

In 1901 they built a Glider to test their work and brought it to Kitty Hawk.  The soft dunes and steady winds were just what they needed for their shaky attempts at flight. Here they built a small hangar and camp for their stay away from their home in Dayton, Ohio.  The 1901 Glider was a disappointment but they learned.


Wright Brothers 1902 Glider

glider  109And the next year they returned with a new and improved 1902 Glider.  In many ways this was the true breakthrough, even more so than the powered craft they made history in.  With this glider they basically solved the challenge of control in flight.  In the fall of 1902 from the large dunes at Kill Devil Hills, they repeatedly launched and flew this glider over 1000 times and literally learned to fly.

hill  110A rudder, an elevator, and warping wings (an early version of ailerons) are all incorporated.  To this day, essentially the same control techniques are still employed in every airplane.  Amazing.

2013-05-12 at 16-11-052013-05-12 at 16-01-41The 1903 “Flyer” incorporated an engine and two propellers linked together with lots of bike parts.  The engine had to be light enough of course, but their propeller design was innovative as they came to the realization that the correct shape for a propeller was more like a rotating wing.  Genius at work. What most others were doing was to emulate marine propellers, which are a screw shape.

2013-05-12 at 16-10-02Wilbur made a first attempt, but crashed.  After repairs, they were ready to try again in a few days.  On the morning of December 17, 1903 it was Orville’s turn.  The first flight lasted only 12 seconds.  But for the first time a man made craft took off under its own power rose into the air and landed smoothly at the same elevation.

2013-05-12 at 15-50-072013-05-12 at 16-18-36They made 4 flights that day, two by each of the two brothers, each progressively longer.

There is a granite boulder marking the take off spot and another marking the end of each of those 4 flights.   There are also replicas of their 2 camp buildings in their original locations.2013-05-12 at 16-15-362013-05-12 at 16-32-042013-05-15 at 15-33-282013-05-12 at 16-35-432013-05-12 at 16-17-09

2013-05-15 at 15-30-47The Memorial is simply done and for an aviation buff like me, quite moving.

The day we were there was beautiful, with a stiff breeze blowing from the north at exactly the right direction for the original flight.

One can just imagine …

~ Hector2013-05-12 at 16-38-27


OBX  044OBX  002The Outer Banks of North Carolina, also referred to as OBX, were very surprising.  For starters, in a week’s time we encountered many weather changes:  windy, warm, cool, calm, super windy, rainy, cloudy, and sunny.   Hector bought a stunt kite and embraced the wind.OBX  053

OBX  003On some maps of North Carolina you can barely see this string of narrow barrier islands, which lie as far as 30 miles out to sea at points, with the Atlantic on the east and Pamlico Sound on the west.  The gulf stream current gets very close to shore and creates a complicated set of tides, land, water and air currents that drive unusual ecosystems.

OBX  006OBX  004OBX  047It’s a very vulnerable location; the bad news, they do get frequent hurricanes, the good news, there is not enough infrastructure on the islands to hold a hurricane on top of them for very long.   And a storm surge can go right over the slender islands of OBX.  But the frequency of changes in weather result in sands shifting constantly and changing the landscape of the islands.  Pretty fascinating.OBX  012OBX  056

OBX  104Another surprise: the islands stretch for over 100 miles and contain 14 different towns/villages.  Much more ground to cover than we realized.  Still a very intriguing place.OBX  106OBX  046OBX  048OBX  049OBX  011

Fine OBX flotsam

Fine OBX flotsam

OBX  007OBX  008OBX  009



OBX  010So we went into a little bit of vacation mode in order to see more of the sights.  My favorites:  the lighthouses, the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the town of Duck, the town of Ocracoke and of course the beaches.OBX  055OBX  060

OBX  023OBX  021The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, built in 1870, is the second tallest lighthouse in the world and the largest one in the U.S.  What I found most fascinating about this lighthouse is that in 1999, it was moved a half mile inland to protect it from the encroaching Atlantic.  Yes, they moved the tallest lighthouse in the U.S.!  “The Lighthouse was cut from the original base, hydraulically lifted onto steel beams and traveled along railroad tracks over the course of 23 days.  It’s now as far from the ocean as when it was originally constructed.” There is a movie about this incredible feat in their museum.  While there, we were not able to climb it, as they were doing some maintenance.OBX  026OBX  020OBX  029OBX  024OBX  032OBX  043

OBX  031But we did get to see firsthand a little piece of the National Parks’ Junior Ranger program.   In this program, kids 5-12 are invited to explore and learn about a park and how they can protect these special places.  The kids and their families complete an activity book which allows them  see the park at their own pace but also direct them to things of special interest to their age group.  When they complete the pages for their age group, they receive a patch or a badge and a certificate for that National Park.  We overheard a ranger conduct a “swearing in” of two tiny tots and it was so charming how much energy the ranger put into administering the oath.

OBX  100

Bodie Island Light Station

OBX  102OBX  062OBX  037OBX  064The second lighthouse we visited, Bodie Island Lighthouse, was originally built in 1847, but was rebuilt in 1859 because the original had a poor foundation.  Thus new lighthouse was then blown up by retreating Confederate troops.

OBX  061The current lighthouse was completed in 1872, and contains some materials leftover from the construction of the current Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  Restoration of the lighthouse was completed this year and the lighthouse was re-opened to the public.

Well, we were on a roll, because this lighthouse only allows people to climb during scheduled times, and the scheduled time they had available didn’t work for us.  The interior of this lighthouse is supposed to be particularly striking. Oh, well, we’ll see it next time.

OBX  051OBX  036OBX  033We visited a third lighthouse, the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which we’ll cover in an upcoming post.  These are three of four lighthouses located in the Outer Banks.  Why so many?  Well, this area was called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.  The combination of complicated tides, shoals etc. made for very treacherous sailing.  In fact, there is a museum that contains information and artifacts related to the many shipwrecks that dot this area.  This area is also the site of many pirate shenanigans with looting and pillaging and burying of treasure etc.  Blackbeard was captured on nearby Ocracoke Island.OBX  035OBX  052OBX  018

Green flash ?? !!

Green flash ?? !!

OBX  092OBX  091OBX  081Leaving the Outer Banks briefly, we crossed the bridge to the next island and kayaked in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, another beautiful river.  When we’d spoken to one of the rangers from the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks a few days earlier about this plan, he’d asked us if we wanted to see alligators!  I almost laughed!  Anyway, there was also a slim possibility of spotting bear on the river, so we were pretty excited, but no luck!OBX  083OBX  084OBX  096OBX  088OBX  093OBX  080OBX  087OBX  085OBX  097OBX  095OBX  090

OBX  078OBX  077Back on the Outer Banks, we visited the town of Duck on the northern end of the islands.  This is a beautiful town that has built a great boardwalk.  On the way, we drove through Nags Head, and I found the area around the main drag to be overbuilt with some random architecture.  But I’m sure that it has pretty areas as well.

OBX  071OBX  067OBX  072On Nags Head, one of the main piers has been rebuilt multiple times and the most recent pier is a one of a kind educational ocean fishing pier which is operated by the North Carolina Aquariums and offers educational programs meeting facilities, a snack, gift and tackle shops and more. Jennette’s Pier is an enormous concrete structure and provides fishermen/women with nice benches, bait cutting and fish cleaning tables: all spotless.  If I fished, I would definitely have spent some time here.OBX  069OBX  065OBX  068

OBX  066OBX  042OBX  038OBX  054OBX  045OBX  074Oh yes and the beaches… throughout the islands, there were many golden, dune-covered beaches.  We also saw lots of other piers, some very rustic and several showing past hurricane damage.  Definitely not in the Jennette’s Pier category but scenic just the same.OBX  075OBX  076

OBX  057OBX  014One evening, we watched another sunset by the sound and the next morning walked over to the beach on the other side of the street to watch the sunrise.  We like it here in OBX.

~ BrendaOBX  058OBX  059

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Smokies  049“Anyone who thinks sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain.”

Author Unknown

Smokies  005The Great Smoky Mountains  National Park is one of my favorite places.  These weathered old mountains, which may not be considered as impressive by some as higher Western peaks are lush and beautiful, as they are covered in deciduous trees.Smokies  048

Smokies  001Smokies  002Driving here from Atlanta was a challenge.  Turns out the spring rains continued, and Hector wound up driving for about seven hours in a rainstorm.  We’d chosen to take the interstate highway instead of driving up the mountains thinking it was safer, which may have been a mistake.  It was very congested and challenging.Smokies  003Smokies  044Smokies  004

Hindsight now tells us that maybe we should have pulled over somewhere and called it a day, but we were so excited about getting to the Smokies that we didn’t think about that option.  And we ultimately made it safely to our beautiful campsite by the river.

We stayed in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, one of two main gateways into the National Park, located on the northwestern end of its main road.  Cherokee, North Carolina, the second main gateway, is on the southeastern end of the main road into the park.

The rain arrived in Gatlinburg late in the evening and through the night.  After having lived in high desert for a number of years, I welcome the rain.  To me, the sound of water, whether it be rain, ocean, or river means I sleep more soundly.   And the rain is what maintains the lush green landscape and beautifull flowers here in the South.

Smokies  040photo-6Hector likes the rain because it makes for interesting photography.  And of course we’re well prepared with rain gear.  So we embraced the upcoming rainy days.  But we are looking for a raincoat for Angel :-).

Smokies  045Both Gatlinburg and Cherokee are really commercial in their own way.  Gatlinburg has tourist attractions like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and Dukes of Hazzard Museum and lots of pancake houses.

Smokies  043My favorite part of Gatlinburg is the Arts and Crafts Community – this is located behind the main drag of Gatlinburg and was first established in 1937, when several artists invited tourists to come to their homes to view their arts and crafts.  Artists started to open shops in the area and it’s now an eight-mile loop road with more than 100 craftsmen and artist shops.  It’s considered “the largest group of independent artists and craftsmen in America.”  And, as a bonus, you also get to experience their Southern hospitality.    Lovely.

Also worth mentioning is the Nantahala Outdoor Center – this used to be a small store and raft trip outfitter but since our last time here they’ve built a beautiful wood “REI style” store just prior to entering the park.  Lots of great outdoor gear and clothing.

Smokies  068Smokies  106Smokies  036Now back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This is the most visited park in the United States.  The mountains are part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range that begins in Virginia.  The park encompasses 521,895 acres and offers 800 miles of horse and hiking trails.  Elevation ranges from 870 feet to 6,643 feet (measly by Colorado standards) and 71 miles of the Appalachian trail passes through the park.

Smokies  006Smokies  039Smokies  034Here’s what I think makes it “Great”:

  1. The rainfall and vegetation means tons of flowers (flowering trees, wildflowers) in spring and summer, and lots of color in the autumn.Smokies  013Smokies  055Smokies  113
  2. The day hikes are very accessible.  Many beautiful spots are within a few miles of a trailhead.Smokies  062Smokies  007
  3. The smoky blue haze – it’s beautiful.Smokies  077Smokies  037
  4. There are abundant rivers, creeks and waterfalls throughout.Smokies  057Smokies  050Smokies  102Smokies  053Smokies  022Smokies  071
  5. Cades Cove – This beautiful valley on the west of the park has over 80 historic buildings that are easily accessed from an 11-mile one-way Loop Road.Smokies  072Smokies  073Smokies  021Smokies  076Smokies  078Smokies  031

Smokies  019Smokies  094Smokies  059Our time in the park was split between driving and hiking.  We were there just past the wildflower “peak”, but still saw lots of wildflowers.  And, because of the recent spring rains, all of the waterfalls were at their peak.Smokies  054Smokies  103Smokies  051

Smokies  058Smokies  065Smokies  064Smokies  041Smokies  017Smokies  063Smokies  067Smokies  035Smokies  109Smokies  079Smokies  012Smokies  025Smokies  018We visited Cades Cove a couple of times.  The history of the area begins when the Cherokees camped and hunted here, however, there is no evidence that they stayed year-round.  The first white settlers came here in the 1821. The rich, fertile land led the population to grow to about 685 people by 1850.  They built log homes, barns, corncribs and smoke-houses.  As the community grew they built gristmills, blacksmith shops, churches, and later schools.

Smokies  032As we drove through Cades Cove and looked at many of the buildings, the difficulty of the subsistence farming life became evident.  One family with nine children lived in a two-room house.  Some ate mostly pork because it was easier to preserve than other meats.  Corn was the major crop, and some families ate cornbread three meals a day.   They had no  motorized farm equipment so had to raise horses or mules to pull plows, harrows, buggies sleds and wagons.  Families had to enter and leave the Cove on narrow, unpaved roads, and it took days to get to any outside destination.  Water had to be carried from the spring.  These settlers were obviously very determined and resilient people.

There is also a walking tour of various buildings within Cades Cove that includes a gristmill standing on its original site. Smokies  080Smokies  011Smokies  008Smokies  033Smokies  111Smokies  096

Smokies  097Smokies  095Smokies  098Smokies  100Smokies  099The walking tour includes a number of other buildings that were relocated from other parts of Cades Cove; a couple of barns, a smokehouse, a corn crib, a sorghum mill, another gristmill and sawmill, a millrace and dam and a small house.

One of the homes that was moved to this area belonged to Rebecca (Becky) Cable and her brother Dan.  Becky and Dan bought the house from Leason Gregg, who’d purchased the house from its original owner, John P. Cable, Becky’s and Dan’s father.  Leason had enlarged the house to include a store on the first floor.  Becky and Dan operated the store and later turned it into a residence and boarding house.  Then Dan’s wife got tuberculosis and Dan was hospitalized for mental illness.  Becky raised her brother’s children, ran the boarding house, and took care of farm and cattle raising chores.   She lived to the age of 96.  Love that story!

Smokies  060Smokies  024Cades Cove also includes a number of hiking trails and lots of wildlife viewing. Smokies  110

Smokies  082Smokies  083Smokies  084We saw many wild turkeys  throughout the park.  I don’t recall seeing a lot of wild turkeys during our past forays into this area but they are certainly here now (there were also a couple that visited our campsite various times).

There are plenty of deer, and elk and red fox have been re-introduced into an area of the park that we didn’t visit.  There are also lots of songbirds in the area at this time of year.Smokies  047Smokies  046Smokies  023

Smokies  091But the highlight(s) of our trip was spotting three different mama bears with cubs.  I’d never seen cubs in the wild, and they are even more adorable than I expected!  The ranger told us that the bear cubs were born about three months earlier and left the den about one month ago.  They were tiny!  Apparently, mama sends them up a tree while she goes to find food and then returns for them.  All three sets of cubs we saw were up in a tree, and we were lucky enough to see one mama “picking up” her cubs.   OMG!Smokies  087Smokies  089Smokies  086Smokies  090Smokies  030Smokies  029Smokies  028Smokies  088

Smokies  092Smokies  027Smokies  108Smokies  093Smokies  056Smokies  052Smokies  070More interesting history of the park; unlike other national parks established on government owned lands, Great Smokies land was privately owned and was purchased for the park in the 1920s and 1930s.  In addition to the Cades Cove community, eighteen lumber and pulpwood companies had owned more than 85 percent of the land and had logged two-thirds to three-fourths of it.  Because of an agreement made with some of the landowners upon the sale of the land, this National Park doesn’t charge an entry fee.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park remains high on my list of beautiful places.  It’s truly “Great”.  Rain or Shine.

~ Brenda