We made it here the day it started snowing in addition to subzero temps. It's not enough snow to ski yet, but a little too much snow to hike. But before I get into that, I recently returned from a short trip to the east coast to see my photos in the Smithsonian and check out a few parks as well. It was pretty much a whirlwind tour.
THE PLAN: Arrive in DC, pick up our rental car, and drive towards Shenandoah National Park that night. Drive Skyline Drive through the park, hike as time allowed, and then continue on towards the north entrance of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Then head out to Cades Cove for sunrise and continue on to Charleston, SC. From there we would spend a few days in Charleston, and make a day trip up to Congaree National Park where we could paddle and hike for the day. From Charleston we would head back to DC, drop off the car, and spend the long weekend in the city visiting museums and monuments before flying back to Denver and starting the new job in Yellowstone.
The drive through Shenandoah was really nice. Even though the fall color in the park was mostly gone, we did find a few spots that still held their leaves. We got a chance to watch the sunrise, get out on a short hike to a couple waterfalls, and check out the new exhibits in the visitor center.
First Light on the Fall Color
Dark Hollow Falls
I was surprised to learn that both Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks were created using eminent domain. The history of both parks include some deep-seeded resentment for the government, and rightly so. People in Shenandoah were told that they would be able to stay on their land in the newly created park, then that decision was reversed by the next administration. I was also surprised to learn that Shenandoah was also home to a campground that was only for "negroes." I am really glad that the national park doesn't shy away from topics that may be uncomfortable to discuss because it is a reminder that segregation is not in our too distant past and that racism was an institutional part of our government. From there we headed to Pigeon Forge to stay for the night.
Now I won't get into it too much, but WTF is Pigeon Forge?!? It's like a honkey-tonk Vegas in the middle of nowhere. As we were driving through the city to find a place to eat we were driving through a never-ending gauntlet of amusement rides, dinner theaters, and flashing signs. The entire town is a tourist-trap. I have no idea how that town exists or why people go there.
The next morning we woke up early again, this time it was cold and foggy. We made our way into the park and started driving on the one-way road out to Cades Cove. Just as we came out of the trees we were greeted to an iconic misty-morning sunrise of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Sunrise in Cades Cove
Morning Dew on the Spider Webs
Morning Light on the Webs
Pasture Sunrise in Cades Cove
Misty Morning Sunrise and Spiderwebs
Once we made it to the Cades Cove ranger station we watched live demonstrations at the Cable Mill and Blacksmith shop. Both the guy in the mill and blacksmith shop were descendants of the people who settled the area. It was really cool to talk to the people who had a strong connection to the land that is now the national park.
Fall colors at the Cable Mill
After leaving Cades Cove we drove south towards Cherokee and stopped to see the sights along the way.
Meigs Falls in Autumn
Fall Color in Great Smoky Moutains
We eventually made it to Charleston and took the next day to relax and hang with family. After catching up on some much needed sleep we hit the road again for Congaree National Park. This park was initially created as a national monument and later upgraded to a national park in 2003. I had heard great things about it so I had been wanting to go for sometime now, but when I looked on the website it mentioned that the best way to see the park was on one of their kayak tours. I looked to sign up for one but they weren't being offered when we were there so I reached out to the park and asked if they were in need of some photos in exchange for a "guided tour" on the water. They were happy to oblige and Ranger Lindsey was our guide for the day. She was very knowledgeable and friendly and gave us a great tour. We were even lucky enough to see 4 river otters. Lindsey told us that in 2 years of working for the park she has only previously seen 3 otters before that day. So definitely a big sighting!
Setting out on Cedar Creek
Cedar Creek Reflections
Corrie and Our Fearless Leader
Widest Part of Cedar Creek on our Paddle
Bald Cypress Reflections
Morning Light on the Creek
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Our River Otter Friend!
After our paddle we got back on terra firma and decided to go for a short hike to check out the park on foot. We saw a cardinal, a young white-tailed buck, rat snake, and some champion trees. I believe we saw the champion loblolly pine tree. It was a huge freaking tree.
Black Rat Snake
Once we were back in Charleston we were looking for a few things to check out in the area during the day and stumbled on a private park called Cypress Gardens. They have a swamp on the property and boats for you to use, aquariums, and have a butterfly house. So we spent the day on the water, looking for small wildlife, and trying to take pictures of the butterflies in the butterfly house. They are tricky buggers to shoot because they wouldn't stay still.
Turtles on a log
Pond Lily Bloom
From Charleston we headed back to DC and dropped the car off at the airport and met up with my family at the hotel. The next day was supposed to be the nicest while we were there so we decided to do the mall that day. We went up in the Washington Monument and visited the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and the U.S Marine Corps Memorial. It was a day full of patriotic sight-seeing and some real-world reminders about what this country has gone through to get where we are today.
Washington Memorial at 555' 5 1/8"
Arlington Funeral Procession
Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Changing of the Guard
Changing of the Guard
Washington Monument Seen From Arlington National Cemetery
Sunset at US Marine Corps Memorial
The rest of the trip we spent wandering around the museums including Ford's Theater, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and the U.S Botanical Gardens.
Ford's Theater and the Balcony Seat Where Lincoln was Shot
Lots of Cool Flowers in the US Botanical Gardens
Family Shot at Washington Monument
Me and My Photo in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
The trip to DC was a great. I was humbled to get to see my work in the Smithsonian and it was a blast to see new parks, make new friends, and see friends and family. Then we flew back to Denver and started packing for the trip to Yellowstone.
Eye on the Prize
Standing in the Road
Fresh Snow in Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin Reflections
I hope this update finds everyone well, and if you happen to be in the area, be sure to look me up!