We had another early departure in mind today, but 7:30 goals turned into 9:00 reality. The highlight of the day was the Alum Cave hike. Another “moderate” rated hike, but only 4.5 miles.
We have driven past this trailhead several times every day, so we know it is popular. As we approached the trailhead today, there were cars lining the road on both sides. Another popular day for a hike. We continued to the trailhead parking lot and made a spot. Not an ideal spot, but it beats walking a quarter mile. While we were putting our hiking boots on, a car pulled out of a highly coveted spot and we moved our car in there. Boom.
Today’s trail takes us to Alum Cave, which is really not a cave, but an alcove. The first mile and a half or so walks you along a creek and it is pretty level or a mild incline. We enjoyed a good laugh thinking about how this trail was called moderate. (We found out later it was well deserved.)
During the early part of our hike, Mallory’s blister from yesterday’s hike started hurting. She decided to power through it, and we’re glad she did! We took a pretty casual pace during the entire hike, but it was well worth it.
About 1.5 miles into the hike, we came to Arch Rock. This rock had a big hole in it that the trail passes through. Very cool, but could also get congested. We had a bit of a traffic jam in it during our hike up.
The trail featured a number of one lane walk bridges made out of trees as we criss-crossed the creek.
The last half mile or so of the trail was pretty strenuous. We took lots of rest breaks.
There were probably 30 or so hikers at the top when we arrived. Lots of people sitting. While we were there, a large group of hikers that arrived. Stephanie and Marissa saw one of the hikers propose to his girlfriend. Mallory and I were taking our own pictures and missed the whole thing. The hike down was much more enjoyable than the hike up. Would recommend.
As we completed the last mile or so of the hike, we were describing ourselves as a flexible, happy family. Stephanie tried to make an acronym out of the saying and it came out as “FFFHF”. Mallory told her she had “trail brain”, and Stephanie said “Yeah, all my blood is in my feet”.
It turns out this trail brain condition started on yesterday’s hike when Stephanie said, “Leave no man not left behind”. It takes quite a bit of effort to have a conversation with her when she has trail brain.
After the hike, we drove to Clingman’s Dome with the plan to have lunch, hike to the top, and visit the Visitor Center. However, once we got within a quarter mile of the area, traffic stalled and people were parking on both sides of the road. We opted to be flexible, and we turned our car around and found a pullout to park and have lunch.
Once the hikes and lunch were done, we headed into Gatlinburg to do some shopping, which was something that Marissa really wanted to do. We found some free on-street parking and off we went.
Our first store is really the first business outside the gates of the park, and it was called Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). It was large and impressive. All sorts of gear for your outdoor adventures. We spent some time in there to the point that Marissa was ready to shop anywhere but there.
We had an ice cream stop at the Chocolate Monkey and enjoyed it outside. We trekked up and down the main road looking for t-shirt shops or anything that looked interesting. But the farther we walked, the less enthusiastic we got. It was difficult to tell if the town ever had any local character. We saw a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Dick’s Last Resort, TGI Fridays, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. It was not our scene. Mallory had jokingly called it Gatlin-nerd earlier in the trip, but Marissa renamed it Gatlin-fail.
The last item on our quest was some fudge for Marissa. We drove back to Townsend and arrived around 6. Unfortunately, Townsend does not put up with any hustle & bustle, so any place that sold fudge was already closed. As we drove past one store that sold fudge, but was closed, we stopped to admire the mural on the side of the store. It advertised Townsend as “The peaceful side of the Smokies”. Yes it is!
For dinner, we made omelets in our dutch oven and ate leftover monkey bread for dessert. Not much activity around the campsite after dinner. Stephanie piddled around cleaning up the area, and the other three of us played a card game of Trash (which I won!).
I typically write the blog each evening after dinner, but today wore me out so it is being written the following day while driving through the Smoky Mountains from the passenger seat. Whatever it takes!