We have to be grateful for every trail we can access in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With extreme budget cuts, some park facilities were closed last year.
But this year, Heintooga Road is open. I didn’t waste time in getting up to Hemphill Bald, the premier hike from Polls Gap to the bald in Cataloochee Ranch.
Today, Beth and her friend, Kim, came with me. It was a new trail to Kim, who lives in Birmingham, AL, and comes up to Western North Carolina occasionally.
Hemphill Bald is at the edge of the park. On the left, the park extends down to the Cataloochee Valley. Private land starts on the right; sometimes an old wooden fence barely stands; it’s obvious that property owners are not that concerned about park hikers trespassing.
The elk was a surprise to all of us. I had heard that elk have now migrated from the Cataloochee Valley to Heintooga Road but I never expected to see one munching happily just off the trail. OK, I’m not sure how happy she was. No antlers so I’m assuming it was a “she”.
Up and down, up and down and we got to our lunch spot at the top of Cataloochee Ranch. The ranch owners had the foresight to put 250 acres of their land in a conservation easement. They also built a couple of picnic tables and benches for hikers.
We walked back at full speed. About a mile from the trailhead, we met a happy hiker who proudly told us he was 85 years old. He was bare chested and carried a full daypack. “I’m 85 years old. Any day that I wake up is a good day.” What a wonderful attitude.
Once back on Heintooga Road, we saw a deer walking the road.20120512BLRI-Masonicmarker18A.jpg We stopped at the Masonic Marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The road is on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Smokies route;if you’re walking the trail, you should take the short diversion.
If you’ve never stopped at the masonic marker, you need to come on the Carolina Mountain Club hike on Sunday September 21. Put it on your calendar.