Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vacation: Well, If Those Are Not YOUR Footprints In the Sand...

Goldmine Loop/Tunnel Bypass/Noland Creek Trails – 9/5/14 - 6 Miles

We knocked off our “to-go” wish list in way, way western NC in two days instead of three, so on Thursday Jim enjoyed a morning bike ride in the Upper Alarka valley while I read, sipped coffee and meditated at our cabin.  We spent the afternoon in the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiked to Juney Whank Falls and then sat in our camp chairs by the creek with our feet in the water.  Dinner at Jimmy Mac’s on Main Street in Bryson City.  Aaahhh…I know, right?

By Friday we were ready to stretch our legs on trails nearby.  We headed into the Smokies again on the Road to Nowhere to hike the Tunnel Bypass and Goldmine Loop Trails. 

The Tunnel Bypass Trail begins at the parking area at the end of Lakeview Drive within sight of the tunnel for which the road is nick- named.  Lakeview Drive was intended to extend through the park to connect with Fontana after Fontana dam was built and the resulting Fontana Lake covered the original Highway 288 and land claimed for the lake. But construction was never completed and in 2010 the U.S. Department of Interior agreed to pay a settlement to local residents and descendants.  Read a brief summary here.   

Tunnel Bypass is a connector trail to the Lakeshore Trail and the Forney Creek area of the park.  Not much to make note of on our hike other than late summer tall bellflower and blue lobelia and one recent blowdown.  

After .4 miles we turned left onto Goldmine Loop Trail.  Please don’t confuse this with the Goldmine Trail, also part of the GSMNP but located on the far western edge of the park on the Tennessee side.  If you are meeting your friend and you get these two mixed up, you will not see each other that day. 

Goldmine Loop Trail is two miles long and descends from either end down to a fingertip of Fontana Lake.  It was a hot, muggy, spiderwebby day. 

All the boar traps I have seen in the Smokies look like they are unused, but I guess I don’t know what a “used” one looks like. 

Fontana Lake, looking much better than the last time I was here when the water level was greatly receded

We passed a field filled with wildflowers of white and purple aster, goldenrod and golden-glow.  An open area like that implies an old homestead.  This beautiful stacked stone chimney still stands tall.

I was very excited to find pinesap popping up in profusion alongside the trail at the low point of our hike.  This is a parasitic plant related to Indian-pipe, the difference between the two that Indian-pipe stems hold a single flower and pinesap holds multiple flowers.  As often happens, as soon as I saw one they seemed to be everywhere.  Then the trail climbed 100 feet and they disappeared.  

The far end of Goldmine Loop Trail connects to the Lakeshore Trail, where a right turn took us almost immediately to the far end of Tunnel Bypass Trail, which we followed to complete our loop back at the parking area.  A nice little hike, but we weren’t quite ready to call it quits.  What else could we explore nearby?

Well, there’s the “tail end” of the Noland Creek Trail.  This trail begins high up in the heart of the Smokies at Upper Sassafras Gap and descends nine miles to intersect Lakeshore Drive, then continues for another mile to Fontana Lake.  I’ve hiked the upper portion several times and there are numerous home sites and cemeteries to explore along that section.  It is an old railroad grade, wide and gentle, an easy out-and-back hike.  But the lower mile to Fontana Lake is nice, too, crossing loud and noisy Noland Creek on wide wooden bridges.  We decided to walk down this trail to the lake.

Blue lobelia

For the last few hundred yards along the lakeshore we picked our way across quite a lot of debris, looking for Campsite 66, which we found at the woods’ edge.  To be honest, there was not much inviting me to spend a night here.  Perhaps it just felt too muggy.  

Jim raised an eyebrow and said, “Well, there’s no one else here and that water looks good.”  Sans boots and shirt he floated away. 

After a bit of internal debate (did I want to walk back to the car soaking wet?) I did the same.  Just a few steps from the water’s edge, the bottom dropped away into a deep channel.  I lost my nerve (don’t like water I can’t see through) and swam back to shore.  

I carried my boots to a big rock to sit and dry my feet with my bandana as Jim got out of the water.  As he walked toward me, he asked, “Did you walk here?  Are these your footprints?”  Well, no, I didn’t walk close to the water line because the sand was too soft.  But something did.

We followed the prints backwards to where the bear came down from the woods, but there were no prints leaving the shore.  Mr. Bear must have swum across to the far side of the little channel. 

You never know what you'll find on a walk in the woods.

“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.”  ~Winnie the Pooh

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