Magical Meadows, Rocket Stove and Eggs!

Hiking Schoolhouse Gap to White Oak Sinks!

by Rachelle Siegrist

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It’s that time of year again, so this past Wednesday, we headed up Schoolhouse Gap Trail to see if the Tall Phlox were blooming. It was a beautiful morning, as occasional clouds passed overhead and the sound of springtime birdsong and gentle breezes filled the air!  As we started our descent into the woodland meadow area, clusters of the delicate lavender flowers started appearing, proving our timing was perfect!  Soon we found ourselves surrounded by a sea of lavender and their soft sweet fragrance filled the air! We found the perfect lunch spot, a big log with plenty of room for the four of us, and we were delighted to have this magical meadow all to ourselves!

A Swallowtail enjoys the Tall Phlox, Shooting Stars and Squaw Root

After lunch, we decided to hike up to a sinkhole where Virginia Bluebells bloom each year.  It’s tricky knowing exactly when they’re blooming, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but were thrilled to find that they were indeed at peak, and absolutely stunning! It was decided that it was a wonderfully peaceful place to just sit awhile, enjoying the beauty and quiet!

white oak sinks trailSoon it was time to start hiking back, and while winding our way through the woods, we heard what sounded like thumping on a large hollow log, growing in intensity and tempo as it went along.  Having an odd sound, it also seemed too slow for a woodpecker, so at first we thought perhaps it was a Ruffed Grouse. But after researching online, we concluded it was most likely a Pileated Woodpecker, since Grouse do the beating with their wings while standing on a log. However, I also discovered that it sounded somewhat like the tapping on a hollow tree made by Sasquatch!  Being a huge fan of Bigfoot, I decided to go with that theory in the end, thinking perhaps he was watching us from up on the surrounding hillside somewhere and was tapping out a “Howdy!” to me!  We strolled back down the path, and just before reaching the trailhead, we stopped for a short wade in the river, finding it most refreshing and a great way to end the hike!

rachelle siegrist hiking school house gap trail
Obviously Tom didn’t get the red shirt memo!

Yesterday was the perfect day for hunting Easter eggs with our little friend Chance, and so he, along with his grandparents and several others, spent time in our front gardens hiding and hunting the multi-colored eggs. Of course it all started with the guys hiding the eggs, while us girls kept him entertained with bubbles, a favorite pastime of his!

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Always fun playing with bubbles!

Soon the three dozen or so eggs were carefully tucked in secret hiding places and the hunt began!  Chance was having a ball locating the eggs and putting them in his red bucket, but stopped several times to watch the Swallowtail Butterflies that kept flitting above, occasionally landing to drink nectar from the abundant Azalea blossoms!  Each time he would sweetly say “Hi butterfly“, then proceed with his search for eggs.

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Looking for more eggs!

Upon finding them all, we hid them for him again, so he could enjoy the experience all over again.  Having worked up an appetite, our group headed to Pizza Hut for a tasty supper and ended the fun evening relaxing on the back porch while enjoying Sharon’s yummy chocolate cake!

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Found another one!

Wes recently discovered rocket stoves in a magazine and after doing some online research, built us one, for free no less!  Upon using it the first time, we were totally amazed, so he built another one right next to it the very next day!  Using small amounts of sticks collected from the woods, it concentrates the heat in one area, thus cooking food efficiently and for free!  A day or so later, he built a table nearby to set things on, so our outdoor kitchen is now complete and works great!

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The initial rocket stove in action

Celebrate Easter . . . For He is risen!

~ Fresh off the Easels ~

Wes painted two landscape paintings this past week featuring gorgeous settings from our beloved nearby Smoky Mountain National Park.  Just a few minutes drive from our home, we love hiking in this area, and of course painting it for you to cherish and enjoy!

landscape smokies painting by_Wes_Siegrist
Wes’ “Still Waters”
lanscape waterfall painting by_Wes_Siegrist
Wes’ “Cascade Colors”

I have almost finished one of my current commissions which I will share with you soon, and started this commission “A Mule Full” featuring four precious little doggies belonging to dear collector friends!  As you can imagine, I’m having a ball painting this one!

dog commission in progress
My latest dog commission in progress

commission a painting by wes siegrist, landscape painting of the virgin islands

~ To Commission A Painting by Us Click Here!

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle


Hiking to White Oak Sinks

Come walk amongst flowers with us!

by Rachelle Siegrist

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Surrounded by Pink Lady’s Slippers

There was a slight chill in the air as we started hiking up Schoolhouse Gap trail early one morning this past week. We were delighted to have the trail mostly to ourselves as we walked along, stopping occasionally to admire wildflowers as we hiked. Soon we cut off from Schoolhouse Gap trail and headed toward the lovely White Oak Sinks area in hopes that the phlox were still blooming.

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The delicate blossom of Stonecrop

After spotting a few small patches of the delicate lavender flowers blooming along the way, my hopes greatly increased! I was thrilled to see a couple of Yellow Lady’s Slippers blooming, and then absolutely delighted when we saw one hillside covered with Pink Lady’s Slippers blooming, scattered about.

Yellow Lady’s Slippers blossoms

Wes had recently read about their wonderful fragrance, so I carefully buried my nose in the small opening and quickly discovered they were right! The overcast skies provided perfect conditions for photographing them, and soon we hope to paint a miniature painting or two of them!

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A gorgeous clump of Pink Lady’s Slippers
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What an amazingly stunning blossom!

We also noticed numerous Yellow Trillium blooming, and several other wild flowers as well. Soon we started making our descent into the peaceful meadow area where several sink holes are located, and quickly noticed splashes of lavender from the fragrant phlox.

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The lovely meadow filled with phlox and trillium

By this time we were hiking with three fellow hikers, whom we had just met. They decided to join Wes and I as we hiked some distance to a sink hole surrounded by Virginia Bluebells. As we hiked along the narrow, flower-lined trail, Wes happened to notice a large Copperhead, coiled up in the trail! Thank goodness our guardian Angel was with us, as he saw it and told us to “Stop right there!”! Having not noticed it, Wes could’ve easily stepped right on it, thus most likely getting bit, or it could’ve went for my bare ankle and leg . . . Yikes!

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Trillium Grandiflorum turns a beautiful shade of pink towards the end

After admiring it from a safe distance, we carefully continued on our way. Winding our way along the unimproved path, I heard a loud rustle nearby and looked up just in time to see a large mamma Black Bear and her cub! Off they went deep into the woods, but what a wonderful sighting for us! Then we came up on large clusters of Shooting Stars in full blossom, as well as Larkspurs showing off their deep purple flowers! It was a beautiful sight indeed!

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A Bumble Bee visits the Shooting Star blossom

Sometime later we finally found the large sinkhole, where one lone Bluebell was still blooming. Then while hiking back, Wes spotted something large flying through the woods and we caught a glimpse of a Barred Owl! Minutes later he called out his “Who . . . Who . . . Who cooks for you” and was instantly answered by another one! It was beautiful music to our ears indeed and we listened as they chatted back and forth for a several minutes.

 A Larkspur blossom and a Virginia Bluebell

The day just kept bringing more surprises and when we sat on a moss covered log amongst the flower filled meadow to eat lunch, I was thrilled to spot a Cecropia Moth, whom was just starting to fill his wings. Relaxingly, we sat there watching as its wings unfolded and slowly grew.

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A Cecropia Moth fills it’s new wings

Our newfound hiker friend, a very kind and knowledgeable gentleman visiting from Michigan, returned in time to see the beautiful moth, and tell us of a gorgeous Red Trillium bloom he had spotted nearby. He hiked with us the remainder of the day, which we greatly enjoyed and loved his ability to tell us what birds we were listening to, since he knew most of their songs! Our trio was thrilled when we saw a Black-throated Green, and watched as she gathered nesting material at a close proximity, before flying off!

A Red Trillium (Stinking Willie) and A Black-throated Green Warbler

We watched butterflies flit along and listened to the melodic sound of springtime birdsong, accompanied by a gentle afternoon breeze, while hiking back. But our unique finds were not over, as I spotted a black snake eating something, and upon observing it a wee bit closer, realized it was a salamander it had in its clamped jaws! It was agreed that it was the first time any of us had ever seen that before and concluded it would probably be the last!

Encounters with things that fly

Soon we were back at the trailhead, where our day of adventures had started early that morning, and said goodbye to our friend, hoping that we’d all have the chance to hike again someday!

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Wes stands by ruts created by wagon wheels traveling the stream bed many years

 ~ Currently On the Easel ~

I’m currently painting on my latest dog commission of an adorable Havanese named Hugo. Just like the many other totally cute dogs I’ve painted, he is great fun to paint! I’m also currently painting a miniature landscape of one of my favorite swimming holes! Wes is currently painting on a goose photographed during our recent visit to IN.

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Recent progress on my dog commission of Hugo

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~ To Commission A Painting by Us Click Here!

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Until next time . . .

~ Rachelle

Hike To White Oak Sinks With Us!

Hiking to White Oak Sinks

By Rachelle Siegrist

wes and rachelle Siegrist at White Oak Sinks

There was a chill in the air and a crisp breeze, as we stated hiking to White Oak Sinks, with friends Kit and Pat, this past Friday. Thankfully, there were a few more wildflowers blooming along the trail, including numerous Trillium, compared to when we hiked that section last week. However some areas of the trail still appeared to be stuck in winter! We left the main trail and headed down the narrow winding path, leading to the sinks, and had to climb over several downed trees and cross a couple of streams along the way.

White Trillium
A White Trillium complete with a tiny green caterpillar

Before long, we rounded a corner and made our final descent into the meadow area leading to the falls, and saw the first clump of phlox blooming, where their beautiful lavender petals, and delightful fragrance awakened ones senses! Excitement filled me, seeing this first glimpse, knowing what lay ahead! Rounding one final curve, we were treated to a visual feast of lavender phlox blooming everywhere!

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Blue Phlox and Mayapples
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Just a swingin’ and happy as a Lark!

This is such a magical place to me when the meadow is filled with the lavender patches and I always envision a mother deer bedded down with her fawn in the middle of one of these lush areas. We were not alone on this hike, and while we sat on a moss covered log watching all of the people and eating our lunch, we figured there must’ve been about 200 people in there! Amazingly, It almost looked like natures version of Disney!

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Can anyone say “Disney?”
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Pat and I enjoying the beauty of it all

However, within no time the people all seemed to disappear, and we had it mostly to ourselves. After passing the bat cave, and walking up the trail some distance, we left it to walk a small path to a nearby sink hole, where there was a mass grouping of beautiful Virginia Blue Bells blooming, and passed the largest collection of Shooting Stars I had ever seen, on the way to the sink hole. Returning back to the main meadow area, we headed for the striking falls, which is comprised of a steam that descends to an opening in the ground below, before it runs back the other way underground, eventually emerging some 3 miles northwest of White Oak Sink in Tuckaleechee Caverns.

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Shooting Star blossoms with Blue Phlox below
Virginia Bluebells at White Oak Sinks
Virginia Bluebells
Wild Ginger
A stunning Wild Ginger blossom

We met several wonderful and interesting people throughout the hike, including one gentleman, from Knoxville, who hikes the trail every week. Saying goodbye to the lovely falls, we started our journey back, being completely absorbed in the visually stunning phlox filled meadow along the way! By the time we returned to the trailhead that afternoon, we had enjoyed a glorious day and numerous photo opportunities, and once again made some wonderful memories!

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The falls at White Oak Sinks
Blue Phlox in White Oak Sinks
Kit trying to decide which flower is best to photograph
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Ruts in the rocks, made when wagons used to travel the stream bed to get into the White Oak Sink area

Rachelle and Wes Siegrist’s newest paintings

Wes finished his painting of an adorable River Otter surrounded by water that almost appears to be moving in his painting! We both painted on the first painting in our Tandem Series, featuring our friends Fred and Barb’s beautiful Marmalade cat named “Precious”. I’ve almost finished my miniature painting of a lovely cat, which we’ve shared the step by step photos of on our Facebook page. Currently Wes is putting the finishing touches on a painting of a sheep.

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“Precious” by Rachelle and Wes
River Otter painting by Wes Siegrist
The Backstroke” by Wes