Thursday, October 14, 2010

Middle Prong, Panther Creek, Blanket Mountain hike

On Oct.12th, we headed to the Tremont area of the Smokies. The leaves are getting gorgeous and I feel the pressing time limit to see everything possible during this, in my opinion, most magical of mountain seasons. The day was pleasant with intermittent drizzles that didn't reach too much below the canopy to dampen us.
The trailhead was packed like I've never seen it here - a wad of horse trailers, a herd of bikes, and a whole troop of what appeared to be a hiking club gathering. *cringe* We generally try to avoid crowds and this was a fairly big one considering the location. Luckily, we'd gotten a late start and it seemed they (at least the hikers/bikers) were finishing up their adventure.

We geared up and blazed through the gathering onto the Middle Prong Trail.

A long, steep cascade near the start of the trail. Hard to tell by the pic but I'm hanging on the edge of a high drop-off over the river. Beautiful, quiet spot.

The Middle Prong Trail is along an old railroad grade that parallels Lynn Camp Prong river on a gentle incline.
We passed a few casual strollers and 5 horses along this portion of our hike.
After 2.3 miles, we reached the junction with Panther Creek Trail. Immediately you must wade or carefully rock-hop (as we did) across Lynn Camp Prong - it is tricky under normal conditions, after a big rain it would be considerably more difficult.
Usually when we reach this point there's a few somebodies resting on the rocks - surprisingly, today there was nobody.

From this point the trail is narrower, rockier and gains much more elevation. Horse traffic had obviously been this way, leaving an obstacle course of poop piles and stirred up rocks/dirt. Thank goodness it wasn't too rainy or it'd be a messy mud pit.
PCT is a nice trail, no real views or standouts, but quite peaceful and the leaves were lovely. We didn't encounter anyone along the way.

After another 2.3 miles, we ascended to Jakes Gap. We'd been up here once before, came up from Elkmont via Jakes Gap Trail, which is a bit shorter approach. Due to the elevation gain, humidity, and wearing a daypack, I'd sweated thru my tshirt - the chill air at this level prompted me to doff that and done my hoody instead.

Here's where things got weird.

Technically, we'd completed the day's plan - 4.6 miles up to Jakes Gap. I should've been happy. Technically. But it's never enough! There's the manway to the summit of Blanket Mountain still to be done, and there it is, and we're right here, and let's just man-up and do this thing, yo!
However..... the huz, still wallowing in the depths of a post-Vikings-loss and the latest Favre controversy, was about 1/2 a second away from a hissy fit. I'd already squeezed nearly 5 miles out of him, was it possible to squeeze a little more?? Of course. *squeeze squeeze*
Unfortunately, in his misery, he'd misread the trail sign (which makes NO mention of the manway at all, btw) but didn't say anything, and thought he was in for another 2.4 miles of trail torture when it's probably between 3/4 to 1 mile. So off we go.

The Blanket Mountain manway is easy to follow but it is getting very grown over as it probably doesn't receive too much foot traffic and isn't maintained by the park service. Most of the way, it is a tight rhododendron tunnel. Part of that tunnel is so thick that we were literally hiking stooped over with branches constantly slapping us in the face. It was awesome :-)
This photo shows a more easily-traveled tunnel section, I didn't get any shots in the really tight spots, didn't want to damage the camera.
Plus, by now I was also dealing with the hissy fit which finally erupted. Not so awesome.

But *I* look happy, right? :-)

Looking extremely pleased with myself. Just leave me here, I'll be home eventually!!
This is a nice little open spot about halfway to the summit.

I'm sorry, but how can you NOT be enjoying yourself with this kind of view?
Stupid football.

Finally we achieved the summit. There are a couple small clearings and hardly any view. The foundations of the old fire tower are in one clearing.......

....the fallen chimney stack of the watchman's cabin (so I've read) is in the other clearing.
Elevation is about 4,600 feet.
There was a godawful stench, most likely fungal, I assume it was fungus since I didn't locate the stack of rotting corpses it smelled like.
Suddenly, just as I was darting about the area trying to see all, it began drizzling in earnest. I didn't have a chance to pinpoint the benchmark. Will have to make a return trip for that (cue evil laugh).

What? I can't live in a fallen chimney surrounded by a foul stink?
Ok..... but I'll be back!

Upon returning to Jakes Gap, we encountered 4 horsemen (not of the Apocalypse variety) who appeared surprised to see us emerge from the manway. They eventually overtook us as we headed back down Panther Creek Trail, leaving us dodging more poop on the way out.
Total hiking time - about 5 hours
Total distance hiked - just under 11.5 miles
Total elevation gain - 2,700 feet

All said, another fantastic day in the Smoky Mountains.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Signs of Autumn

Things are starting to get colorful here. Today was a gorgeous sunny day and while mowing the lawn I admired some of the beauty surrounding our house.

The vacant lot next door is full of fall flowers, including some pointy spikes of goldenrod. In the heat of the afternoon, the smell of wildflowers was heavy - the same rich, wild scent I can taste in the delicious wildflower honey I love. In fact, a few honey bees were lazily moving about the various blooms.

The soft layers of color makes me want to start an impressionist painting!
Yellow is the dominant color at the moment, another week or so and we'll probably be seeing more orange and red.

Speaking of red.....

Bam! Now there' a shot of color!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chrysalis City

We're loaded with caterpillars, chrysalids, butterflies and moths. I keep finding them all around the house and it is very distracting and I filled up the memory stick in my camera.
I have to quit going outside.
I was pulling dead caladium leaves in the garden and keeping an eye out for chrysalids but still I managed to overlook this one - of a sulphur butterfly. It was on the ground and ants would likely have gotten to it soon.
I tied the dead leaf to my bamboo trellis. After about a week the butterfly emerged:

I found this sulphur butterfly chrysalis around back a few days ago hanging from the siding - it's much darker to blend with the colorings here.
It emerged today and hung around on the patio while its wings dried - it had the same wing curl as the one pictured above. After it started flying clumsily, it landed in my hair twice and sat for a few minutes, then flew over to my dead/dying sunflowers stalks.

This is (I believe) a swallowtail butterfly chrysalis, also found in the back hanging from the siding.

Unfortunately I discovered the ants had infiltrated when I went out to check on it. They also took out a gulf fritillary chrysalis in the front yard. %*^@&!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gulf Fritillary Butterflies

The passion vine growing on the trellis by our front window has attracted a bunch of Gulf Fritillary butterflies. They are quite pretty and flutter around maniacally. Apparently passion vine is one of their favorite buffets, and they've laid lots of tiny eggs that have recently hatched.

The eggs develop into caterpillars that are bright orange with scary black spikes. They've been chewing up the leaves of my passion vines and I was pleased to discover a few chrysalises several days ago.

Here a larva begins to transform. Its rear end is attached to a vine with the head hanging down, and its bright orange changes to a sickly, milky shade.

Both these chrysalises were hanging from the same bamboo stake. They formed at the same time, but they stayed different colors throughout their span. I don't know why the difference.... is one male and one female?

I went out to check them this morning at 9:30.... the dark chrysalis was now empty (darn, I missed it) and the lighter one's butterfly was already fully emerged and drying its wings. Such a beauty! After a few minutes it flew to the ground and briefly walked on my hand. A lovely way to start my day :-)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rainbow Cake

This week I finally had an excuse to make a cake. I've been foaming at the mouth to try making a rainbow cake as I've seen posted so many times on the interwebs (just Google "rainbow cake" and see!). I especially enjoyed this and based mine mostly on this.
Here we go:

I've never done a 'complicated' cake so this was both exciting and worrisome. I bought 2 boxes of cake mix because I didn't know if one would be enough as I wanted to divide the cake into 6 layers. I mixed just one box first to check and it looked like enough batter for my purpose. I prepared the batter following the box instructions.
The Wilton gel colors are very vibrant, it was fun shading the cake batter. The box mix created 4 cups and I divided it into 6 portions and colored each using 6 of the 8 gel colors provided (brown and pink were the other shades in the set).

I greased three 8-inch cake pans with shortening, dusted with all-purpose flour and poured in the red, yellow and orange batter. They baked for about 18 minutes at 325F and after cooling 15 minutes they were turned out and cooled on wire racks.

The pans were washed, dried, greased, floured and filled with green, blue, and violet batter.
While they were baking, I shifted the cooling cakes to plates and put them in the fridge.

After cooling the last 3 layers, they went in the fridge, too.
I was getting ready to ice the cake and they say getting the cake cold will keep it from being as crumbly and getting the icing funked up when you start working it.... seemed to be a success, not much crumbage.

Mmmmm, icing. This icing is really good. I ended up having to run out and buy a 2nd can of it, not because I ate a bunch! but one just wasn't enough to spread between 6 layers AND cover the whole outside. I kinda knew I'd need 2 but I didn't want to risk only using one and then having a tub of icing sitting in the cabinet haunting me, calling me.
I have a horrible icing-binge memory.... don't ask. *urp*

This is the 'dirty icing' step, to get everything mostly covered with the frosting then put the cake in the fridge to let the it harden and contain the crumbs. I'm a total novice with an icing spatula but did a fair enough job. I used the trick of putting 4 strips of wax paper between the bottom cake layer and the plate so when you're done frosting you just slip them out and the plate is clean. Super cool.

After it chilled for a couple hours, I frosted the cake with the rest of the 2nd can of icing, then removed the wax paper strips. I'm so ready to cut this thing! But had to wait several more hours *omg suspense*
It doesn't look too exciting hanging out in the fridge, just a plain homemade cake. But that's part of the surprise :-)
Another part of the surprise was that the blue candles also had blue flames - yahoooooo!

Finally the moment arrived..... time to cut the cake......

Wheeeeeeeee! It's perfect! Ok it's not *perfect* perfect, but it is a perfect surprise.
And it tastes really really good, too.

Somebody reported pooping a rainbow this morning but there were no witnesses to substantiate this claim.

All this thinking about cake...... I'm off to have another slice :-D

Monday, July 19, 2010

Double Rainbow

Lately we've been having some minor drizzles near sunset which have resulted in some brilliant rainbows. Several times they have appeared as double rainbows, but the doubles have been so faint they didn't show up in my pictures. Today I was able to capture one on film:

One of my sunflowers (with a tiny raindrop) looks on....

This was quite a surprise. Just as I snapped the photo, a streak of lightning began to spider across the sky. I didn't catch it in full glory but you can see the start of it at the top right of the shot and it extends down through the rainbow.

A raindrop on the lens blurs the rainbow.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Backyard Turkeypalooza

On July 3rd I was washing dishes, looked out the window and was stunned to see a herd of turkeys strolling through the yard.

Turquita has peeps! Awesome!

There's 18 chicks here.... probably a few more around.

Awwwww who's makin poopies in my yard, is it you?? Yes it is!

A brief video, sorry for the bad quality, I was shooting into the sun and trying to hide because they were watching me:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Buggin' Out

A walk around the yard leads to beautiful discoveries if you take the time to stop and smell the roses. Just be careful where you poke your nose!

Huge bumblebees are frequenting the garden, they dive bomb me sometimes but mostly I'm ignored, they're too busy eating up all that juicy pollen.
See how the passion flower rubs pollen on the bee's back as it works? Click to enlarge the photo and see better how much it's caked on!

Some kind of neato beetle, I love it's b&w stripey pants. There was a big beetle orgy in one of the plants on the vacant lot next door and they were flying all over the place.

Pretty wildflower, right? Look closer....

Monday, June 28, 2010

My trellis

I finished building the bamboo trellis for the front garden a couple weeks ago and now the passion flower vines are growing on it nicely.

It's constructed of 33 pieces of bamboo and measures 100 inches wide by 72 inches tall. I built it inside due to the heat and then moved it out for installation..... that was quite a job shifting it by myself! Only possible because it's not heavy. I drove 3 metal plant stakes deep into the ground and tied the trellis to them so hopefully it'll withstand any wind gusts. I anchored the west side a bit closer to the house to minimize the chance of wind catching it from that direction and flopping it over.

Where the flowers die a fruit begins to form. Last I looked, there were 4 fruits on the vines.
I've also spotted several variegated fritillary caterpillars roaming about, they appear to be big fans of the passion vines. Spiky little thing's eating the end off this leaf.