A few weekends ago, on a whim, Chad booked a cabin just outside of Bryson City, North Carolina. He has always wanted to go mountain biking at Tsali Recreation Area, so we took an extended weekend with Boris in the mountains.
We left on Saturday morning, thinking that we’d make it through town around 2:00 P.M., just in time to unpack, put on our boots and go hiking somewhere before it got dark. We ended up stuck just before one of the two bridges that cross the town because of the annual Christmas Parade. I was apprehensive about Boris’ ability to stay calm with a marching band, fire trucks and all kinds of strange sounds going on around him but he behaved himself while we watched the parade.
One of the things I actually really love about the South is the abundance of Civil War memorabilia and reenactments When I was a kid, I vaguely remember my folks taking me to a reenactment at Gettysburg or Antietam, but outside of a battlefield scenario there weren’t many reenactors in parades. But down here, you can’t spit without seeing some kind of replica CSA kit. Whatever your feelings about history nerds or Civil War glorification or whatever, I am all for people being interested and passionate about living history.
We finally made it to the cabin a little before the sunset and headed up to Lakeshore Drive also known as “The Road to Nowhere.” The story goes that there are ancestral graveyards that are remote and inaccessible for a lot of county residents, especially back in the 40s when the road was being built. The engineers took the time to bore a tunnel through the earth and pave a short spit of land directly afterward, but then halted construction citing environmental concerns. The paved area ends in a trail into the Smokies (no dogs allowed, bummer) which we didn’t check out because of the time.
The tunnel is incredibly spooky and full of horse shit. It’s pitch back in the center, so be sure to bring a flashlight because you can’t see where you’re stepping. We walked through the tunnel, I snapped a few photos and we headed back to the cabin. The sunset was absolutely beautiful, and these photos absolutely don’t do it justice. The Smokies are one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
The next day, we drove to Tsali Recreation Area so Chad could bike and I could hike. The weather was about 62 degrees and overcast, but it didn’t rain at all until we got back in the car four hours later. I was the only one on the 7-mile Mouse Branch Trail except for my dog, and it was incredibly still and peaceful. I shed my running jacket and Smartwool long-sleeved shirt early on in favor of a tee shirt, it was that nice out.
I stopped to take dozens of photos with my new camera, but obviously only a few came out, and even those are a little blurry. So again, my photography doesn’t quite do it justice but the entire area is full of different plants, lichens, birds, trees, ferns, shrubs, delicate flowers, and different colored pine needles.
The Mouse Branch trail, like all Tsali trails, allows for alternating horse / bike usage. Hikers are always allowed on all trails, but still need to pay the $3 usage fee. The Mouse Branch has yellow / tan blazes marked on either side of the trees with “recommended path” signs. I started off by heading toward the left of the trail where it intersects with the Thompson trailhead. While it was nice, I think that next time I’ll take the 7.7 mile Thompson trail as I got back to the car about 30 minutes before Chad was finished biking.
Fontana Lake was all but dried up when I passed through – you can see from the (blurry) photo below. The sediment on the bottom had an awesome ochre color, and Chad said that he saw people wading through the muck trying to find artifacts.
At mile six, I was starting to curse myself for not having purchased the hiking shoes I’d had my eye on. Instead, I wore my Brooks running shoes which weren’t uncomfortable but they are not a hiking boot. I was also desperate for a hamburger or something more than the coffee and single pancake I had that morning.
We went home, got in the hot tub to rest our sore muscles, lit a fire and vegged out for the entire rest of the evening. It had started to rain by that point, and we just cozied up in the cabin and watched “Stepbrothers.” Yes really.
On the way home, we stopped by the Tallulah Gorge Overlook in the mist and rain, and managed to get some halfway decent shots before the fog totally obscured our view.