Hiking the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail!
By Rachelle Siegrist
We were blessed with one beautiful sunshine-filled day this past week, so Wes and I decided to take advantage of it with a hike in nearby Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ve been wanting to hike to Alum Cave Bluffs since the group, Trails Forever redid the trail, and what a fabulous job they did! Every turn in the trail continued to impress with major improvements and we were delighted to find that the inclining path had not been replaced with hundreds of steps in most areas. The air was crisp as we started our hike early that morning, and I was quite thankful to be wearing much of my wardrobe! Surrounding shafts of sunlight streaming through tall, sinewy, bare trees, created long slender patterns of light across the leaf-strewn forest floor, and sounds of rushing water filled the air, as we hiked up the trail following alongside the river, leading through tunnels of Rhododendrons much of the way to Arch Rock.
I never tire of climbing the numerous winding stairs carved out of rock that lead you up and through this impressive formation. Leaving Arch Rock, we continued hiking upward, crossing the stream at times by rock hopping and at others via a log footbridge. We continued to gain elevation for quite sometime, leaving the symphony of rushing water behind. Soon we reached Inspiration Point, a rocky bald affording a stunning view of Little Duck Hawk Ridge, in which a hole called the Eye of the Needle is near the top. Knowing the Peregrine Falcons sometimes nest and hang out there, we were hoping to catch glimpses of them during our hike.
I always feel on top of the world while standing in such places as this, and love lingering a bit while savoring the stunning 360 view! This is where we also caught our first glimpse of Alum Cave, appearing quite small, nestled into the mountainside above. Onward and upward we went, soon rounding the corner and there it was, looking as grand as ever!
We were delighted to have it mostly to ourselves as we sat perched on a big rock, whilst enjoying the warmth of the bright sun! I especially enjoyed it, basking like a lizard with my eyes closed at times, totally loving the feeling of being warm everywhere at once! Whilst sitting there eating our lunch, we watched as the Peregrine Falcons flew across directly in front of us, caught a thermal and soared above. All of a sudden one took a dive at a high rate of speed towards the valley below, and it was a real treat to see them almost a dozen times during our hike along this elevation!
About 500 feet long and 80 feet high, Alum Cave is actually a concave bluff. Epsom Salts were mined from the cave from 1838 until 1854. Moreover, the Confederate Army mined saltpeter from the cave, during the Civil War, and used it to manufacture gunpowder. Today, it serves as an amazing place in which to pay a visit and sit a spell! Since it was such a gorgeous day, we hiked further up the trail leading toward Mt. LeConte, allowing me to hike along one of my favorite sections of trails in the park.
Not too far past Alum Cave is what’s know as Gracie’s Pulpit, and is roughly the halfway point to Mt. LeConte Lodge. The trail hugs the cliff face in several sections, with cable handrails attached to the rock face for use as you climb the narrow rock ledges, and the view to the left as as you ascend is absolutely stunning!
I can’t express how much I enjoy hiking this section, and had looked forward to it as soon as we started out earlier that morning! The most dangerous conditions I ever remember where when we were hiking it a few years ago in the winter and this section was covered in ice. I got a good dose of adrenaline that day indeed!
Once we reached a certain elevation, rounding the mountain to the north side, a freezing, strong wind hit us, and since we didn’t have extra coats, we turned back, happy to feel the warmth of the sun once we reached the south side. Before long we were back at Alum Cave, and continuing our decent.
Down and down we went, passing stunning views, and crossing the stream at times, and before we knew it we had reached the top of Arch Rock. We relaxingly strolled along the winding path, stopping numerous times to admire the different cascades along the way. As we grew closer to the trailhead, the air got colder, and by the time we reached the van, Wes’ hands were so cold he couldn’t even turn the key in the ignition. So I did it for him, thankful once again I had chosen to wear most of my wardrobe that day . . . Ha Ha!
~ Currently on the Easels ~
It’s been quite busy again here in the Siegrist studio, with Wes working in the SAA office and him happily joining me back at the easels. I’ve continued painting on a collection consisting of six tiny, round miniatures featuring different songbirds painted on silk. This collection includes, a Carolina Chickadee, Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch and a Blue Jay. The collection of “Songbirds on Silk” will debut at the upcoming Southeastern Wildlife Exhibition in Charleston, SC. in February.
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Until next time . . .