Venturing into the South

By November 20, 2013 Hikes, Our Travels, Parks No Comments

Coincidently, and very luckily for us, our trip landed us in the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains in what is arguably the most beautiful time of year there, autumn. Wowzers, we couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque welcome to the South!

After leaving DC we headed into the Shenandoah valley and stayed in a small town called Crozet where we were treated to real Southern hospitality. We spent 4 days exploring the gentle mountains which were speckled with the most amazing variety of colours, a sight we can’t replicate no matter how beautiful our country. We climbed peaks and sat gazing over the rolling hills (we are comparing this mountain range to the Drakensburg and we win hands down in size and magnitude – but to be fair, to less fortunate folk who haven’t had the luxury of experiencing the Drakensburg, these are still mountains) and tried to breath the city out of our lungs.

Crozet bbq!

Crozet bbq!

The weather began to turn when we were there and a cold front moved in dropping the night temperature down to about 4 degrees, but we were staying in a wonderful little home with inside heating, a luxury us South Africans are not used to. This came back to bite us in the proverbial rump when we waltzed out our door one morning heading out for our first big hike in the mountains, not realising how cold it really was because we’d been sitting inside a heated house. Driving high into the hills to venture down a particularly beautiful waterfall gorge, we arrived at our location, climbed out the car and greeted our first sprinkling of snow! Lola looked up very confused and said “the rain is white”! In all my wisdom, I had packed one jersey for each of us, aside from the one we had on. As you can imagine, this was simply not enough! We managed to source 2 towels from the car, and used them to tie the kids to our backs, we were embracing our African roots, and keeping both ourselves and the kids warm in the process. Very freaking cold about describes it. Needless to say I learned my lesson, and from then on Shaun packed the warm clothes. I know where my strengths lie… I pack the food.

 

So time in the Shenandoah passed all too quickly, and we found ourselves winding our way down through the mountains along the most unbelievably scenic drive, stopping only a handful of times for my extremely car sick husband to feel solid earth beneath his feet. As we left one national park behind us, we entered another, The Great Smoky Mountains. They have this name because the trees emit so much moisture there is a haze lying over the forest in the morning and evening, even for much of the day. Until we found this out, I thought we were unlucky in always waking up to a hazy view (so uneducated)!

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains

These two mountain ranges run north-south through the eastern interior of the States, joining with others to form the Appalachian mountain trail, a trail that runs 3500km and passes through 14 States. I mention this because this is Shaun’s new goal. We are going to walk this trail in entirety, in one go… Sigh. I’m just trying to convince him to wait until the children can at least carry their own back packs! 😉
We drove through Cherokee, and Indian reservation which was eye-opening and sad in it’s dilapidation, and headed into the Smoky Mountain Nature Reserve to walk part of the Appalachian Trail (in training already ;). It was a magnificent hike! It is quite high, and the hike takes you even further up, giving you an indication of how autumn passes through the mountains. It starts at the top (where it is coldest) and works it’s way down through the trees, so by the time we reached the top of our hike there were absolutely no trees with leaves at all, simply fir trees, leading the kids to believe that it was Christmas at the top of the mountain!

 

The kids walked all the way up solo (really great that we have 2 such adventurous little souls who spur each other on) until we reached an area of the path where we kept hearing thumping. Now Shaun and I know a fair amount about nature, we know when to panic and when to retreat quietly. We both froze. The thumping happened periodically, and loudly, both intriguing us and preparing us to run. The kids were scared silent (this never happens)! Shaun decided he would go and investigate it alone, returning with the embarrassing knowledge that what had us on high alert was a male bird performing his mating ritual! He was perched atop a log and periodically displayed his sizeable tail feathers and flapped them so hard that they thumped the air (sounding very much like a scary daddy bear walloping a tree)! We were safe, a little embarrassed, but chuffed to catch the hopeful daddy bird in action.

Highlands Town

Highlands Town

Aside from hiking, we also explored a few little towns and had a waterfall viewing day. One town in particular, looking very European, had the best ice cream we’ve ever eaten! This was on a day when we woke up with our first frost outside, we were dressed in our new thermal winter gear, and walked around town with an ice cream cone… tourists!

The waterfalls were beautiful and the area is a wonderful little place to visit. It happened to be on a weekend when we were all feeling a little homesick and moods were low, being in such a peaceful place when feeling so somber doesn’t really help. There was little but beauty to distract us from missing our family and friends back home, and as silly as it may sound, the beauty makes you miss them more because we just wanted to share it with everyone. Having absolutely no reception on our phones didn’t help either. We have been surprised at how patchy the cell reception is in the States. What we have realized is how advanced our country really is in many regards, in various ways we wouldn’t have thought of before.

Highlands Lake

Highlands Lake

We had mistakenly thought Shaun could work while I drove, but there is little to no mobile data connection along the major highways, something we have always taken for granted in SA. This has meant work has to wait until evening time on days when we spend a long time in the car. As you can imagine, this is not ideal working conditions, but not vastly different from what we expected. I’m really lucky Shaun can work as easily and quickly as he does, regardless of where he is and what his surroundings are. Give him his headphones and the rest of the world doesn’t exist, it’s like plugging him into the matrix. Now I’m laughing at how nerdy I sound. This is what being married to an engineer does to you! Sorry honey 🙂

Anyway, I’m waffling. I feel like I have adequately, although briefly, filled you in on our trip up until we left for Mexico. Sorry the updates have come so tardily! I will be on my best behaviour for the next while and write about Mexico with haste!

Sending so much love to all of you!!!
S & M & L & L

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