Hiking To Alum Cave Bluffs

Hiking the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail!

By Rachelle Siegrist

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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.

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Wes standing in the entrance of 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.

rachelle siegrist hiking alum cave bluffs
Me with Eye of the Needle in the background

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!

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A very tiny me standing at the top of the stairs

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!

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Isn’t it just amazing!

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.

hiking alum cave bluffs

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!

hiking alum cave bluffs trail

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!

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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.

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The new improved stairs at the base of Alum Cave Bluffs

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!

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The new stairs leading down through Arch Rock

 ~ 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.

miniature songbird paintings on silk by rachelle siegrist
Holding my 6 wee silk paintings in progress

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle

 

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Paddling Our Cares Away

Trying Out The New InFlatable Fishing Kayak!

By Rachelle Siegrist

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We were blessed with a beautiful day this past week here in the Smokies, so we took advantage of it and headed to the woods!  We took along our kayaks this time, including Wes’ new fishing kayak so that he could try it out.  Amazingly it inflated very quickly with a hand pump, and within minutes we were loaded and on our way. Unfortunately Wes forgot to order a longer paddle when he ordered the kayak, so it made it a little difficult for him using the shorter one.  However, next time he’ll have a longer paddle and it will be much easier!

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The water’s surface was like glass as we started paddling, mirroring the surrounded trees  adorned with lingering orange and yellow fall leaves.  It was serenely beautiful, and I imagined the trees admiring themselves in their mirrored reflections below.

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Peering down into the crystal clear water, I noticed that it almost looked as if I were floating in mid-air while passing over a pebble covered surface below, with larger rocks scattered about. Kingfishers zipped by at a high rate of speed, as if  late for a very important date!  We also passed various sized turtles sitting atop logs whilst soaking up the wonderful gift of warm sunlight!

wes siegrist in fishing kayak

We found a rocky bank, where we could disembark and stretch our legs whilst enjoying the warmth of the sun on our own skin!  I also decided to try out the inflatable kayak at that point, and decided it very nice indeed, telling Wes that I could easily snuggle up in it and sleep while floating underneath a star studded sky on a warm summer night!  Later that day arriving back at the place where our adventure had started earlier,  we decided it was another wonderful memory!

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Much of this past week brought gray skies and rain.  Yesterday morning was another chilly, rainy day, the barren trees standing like skeletons against the pale gray sky. So I bundled up and sat on the back porch while eating my breakfast and feeding my critter friends. Suddenly I heard a massive wind gust heading my direction and watched as it bent the trees almost 90 degrees in one direction, as it passed through. Each time another strong gust blew through, I was amazed at the sheer power of this invisible force, watching as the flexible trees looked like a yoga class preforming their morning stretches.  I then realized I had allowed myself to see great beauty in an otherwise cold, rainy gray day.

 ~ Currently on the Easels ~ 

It’s been quite busy again here in the Siegrist studio, with Wes working on SAA office things and me happily back at the easel. I’ve begun 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.  I will share images of them as I’m painting on them and then once they’re completed. The collection of “Songbirds on Silk” will debut at the upcoming Southeastern Wildlife Exhibition in Charleston, SC. in February.

chickadee songbird painting on silk by rachelle siegrist
My Carolina Chickadee in progress

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle

Hiking To The Walker Sisters’ Cabin

Hiking to the Walker Sisters’ Cabin!

By Rachelle Siegrist

 

rachelle siegrist hiking the smokies

Thankfully, Thanksgiving day brought gorgeous weather to the Smokies, filling a clear azure blue sky with abundant sunshine!  So Wes and I put on our hiking boots and headed into nearby Smoky Mountain National Park, to enjoy the beautiful day with a hike to the Walker Sisters’ cabin.  We chose to add the extra hike linking the trailhead to the picnic area in Metcalf Bottoms, where we parked, and I was so glad we did as we passed several beech trees in full fall splendor, perfectly illuminated by the sun!

 

fall color in the smokies

Before long we reached the historical Little Green Brier Schoolhouse nestled amongst the trees.  Built in 1882, and used as a school and church almost continuously until 1936.  stepping inside takes you to another time and place where life was so much simpler.  Leaving there we started up the trail leading to the cabin, and upon walking across one of the foot bridges, stopped to check for salamanders. And lo and behold upon closer inspection, there was a large one that had found a nice spot in the sun.  He didn’t mind at all us taking a closer look as well as a few pics of him.

salamander in the smokies

Leaving the enchanting salamander to enjoy his sunny spot, we continued along the winding path, shuffling thru and crunching leaves underfoot as we merrily went along.  Rounding a curve in the path, the picturesque cabin came into view, and we were delighted to have the peaceful setting all to ourselves!  We explored the surrounding area for awhile before sitting on a log and enjoying a Thanksgiving snack.

rachelle siegrist at the walker sisters cabin

The walk back was just as relaxing as the hike up and when we reached the bridge crossing over to the picnic are, we spotted a fly fisherman taking advantage of the beautiful day as well!  That evening we enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at friends Sharon and Tom’s house, ending the day with games and laughter.

fly fishing in the smokies

I was delighted to be able to eat my breakfast on the porch yesterday morning, with lots of my critter friends joining me!  Several squirrels came and stayed as long as the peanuts were being handed out, while the Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens and Nuthatches enjoyed both the peanut crunchies as well as mealworms.  Surrounded by squirrels, with birds landing on the table to grab nuts, my chipmunk decided to come join our feast.  Upon inhaling all the scraps on the floor, she climbed up my legs and then sat in my hands for a few seconds, until she realized I wasn’t an empty chair . . . Ha Ha!  At that point she descended my legs, climbed into the empty chair sitting next to me, where she crawled up onto the back of it and sat looking at me.  I sat very still, so she jumped onto the table, ran over to the bowl of peanut crunchies and climbed into it, filling her cheeks to max capacity, before leaving!  Needless to say, the magical encounters on my back porch never cease to amaze me!

wes siegrist fishing kayak

Wes is a very happy camper, as the inflatable fishing kayak he ordered came a couple of days ago!  This one will allow him to be able to fish easily, and since it can also be used as a double, we’ll both be able to use it while camping and going places where we can’t take our regular hard shell kayaks.  We’re very excited to be christening it soon!

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle