Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our Dog Is Prettier Than Yours, Mr. Photographer

How sweet it is, taking off on a fall-like day with no real time constraints and a familiar destination at hand. Today, with the weather mild and the temps barely cresting the eighties, we wanted to get outdoors of course! We opted for our favorite park, Frozen Head State Natural Area, because we wanted the kids (Ashby & Clover) to be able to play in the creek. That's their favorite thing to do after a nice trail hike. We also didn't want to travel too far, nor did we want to brave the unknown today.

It's always nice visiting a park you are familiar with. It's comfortable, relaxing, and you don't have to constantly worry about what's around the next bend. This is exactly what we had in mind when we set foot on the Debord Falls trail head. What we found at the falls, however, was far from comfortable, relaxing, or familiar.

We hiked up the ridge following the creek for the .6 mile to the falls. Upon arrival, we encountered something we had never before encountered on the trail. No, not a bear, nor a snake; not even a bobcat (all of which make us nervous at just the thought). No, what we encountered was a photo shoot, and a very odd photo shoot indeed.

We stood at the overlook for a little while, contemplating if we should even venture down to the falls. The photographer, if you could call him that, kept looking up at us, obviously contemplating the same thing. It was then I noticed that, what appeared to be, a teenage girl was the single subject of his portraits (unless you count the small amount of Class I Natural Area making it into the shot). We watched as a few other people braved to go down there, and they had a dog, too. Clover gets a little nervous around other dogs, so we waited........ and watched. **Although, I think Tim was feeling a little uncomfortable watching an old man wearing only swimming trunks photograph a teenage girl wearing what could have been last night's used dental floss.**

The man with the dog finally came up out of the falls area, and I made the executive decision to go down anyway. By this time, the girl was changing clothes behind towels underneath the overlook (thank God we moved when we did). This gave the kids a little time to play in the falls cove while the photographer readied himself for their next.... whatever they were doing. But it was all too soon that they were back, and this time, it was worse.

I'm not going to go into detail, but imagine an old man ogling at a young girl in a wet t-shirt contest. Believe me, we tried to block them out. We tried to let the kids play. We tried to admire the congregations of butterflies. We TRIED to enjoy the relaxing sound of the rushing falls. But all that is pretty hard to do when, in the background, someone is shouting, "Work it! Ah Yeah! You're the best! That's HOT! Let's see it, baby!"


Needless to say, we didn't stick around as long as we would have liked, and I was getting pretty perturbed at the whole situation (not being able to capture the photos I wanted because they were in the way constantly). Begrudgingly, we left our beloved falls behind, and opted for a picnic by the creek in its stead. Things got much better from there.

Tim cooked us yum-dogs on the charcoal grill, while Ashby played in the creek below us. Clover took a nap while waiting on food, and I took lots of photos - most turning out blurry though for reasons unbeknown to me -- I thought I did all the camera stuff right. *sad face*

After filling our bellies with outdoor vittles and playing the TAKE A CROOKED PHOTO game (pics attached), we took the kids to play at the playground. To Ashby's dismay, the swings had been taken down, and she had no further interest in playing there. So we walked around the campground loop instead, letting the fall camping bug bite us hard. Ashby was practically begging to go camping before we were even halfway around the loop while Tim was looking for a good spot to put up an antenna when we go camping next.

We let Ashby play on the gigantic rock (another favorite pastime at Frozen Head), and walked Clover (or did she walk us?) around the upper portion of the campground. We finished our walk at the car, and promptly pulled out for home. The kids had a ton of fun, played hard, and were both tuckered out. They slept good on the way home.

And Tim and I? Well, we were tired, too, but we left with memories of a trip we will likely never forget.

Now for the pics...

Eww.. What is this? Swimsuit Illustrated?

Uuummmmm.... Okay....
My dog is prettier than yours mister.

The real beauty in the woods.
One of God's masterpieces, Debord Falls.

Ashby (The Rugrat) and Trusty Sidekick Clover Beene

The Goblin Behind the Falls

Some Call Him Tim

The Grill Master
Cookin' the Chili

Ashby on a Rock

Tim Tending the Yum-Dogs

Yum-Dogs and Chili Spells YUMMY in Our Tummies

Yum-Dogs Ready to Eat

There was a Crooked Man...

Who had a Crooked Wife...

They had a crooked kid,

But the Dog, she was not Crooked.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vinegar Pie??? We're Game!

The weather has been mild this summer, until a few weeks ago when we finally started having the typical 90+ degree heat and humidity. It's well known here in East Tennessee that August brings beautiful days but scorching heat. It's for this reason that we found ourselves on a Saturday drive this past weekend instead of on our usual outdoor walkabouts.

Saturday brought blue skies, and the clouds that were overhead were the large fluffy type that you want to curl up and nap on. We absolutely had to get out and do something. It didn't take long before we decided what the best choice was.

After a long day mowing two yards and cleaning out some hip-high weeds, we were hungry and hot. The air conditioner of the car and a nice country meal was calling our names. We packed ourselves in our maroon Chevy Malibu like sardines (mom & dad came along too) and headed towards Clinch Mountain and the nice restaurant we had heard was at the crest.

From the homestead, we took Hwy 33 North to Hwy 61 East to TN 131. We followed TN 131 for quite a ways. It's definitely a great drive, but the road is narrow and curvy. Makes for great scenery though as you follow the Clinch Mountains through the valley in Grainger County out towards Thorn Hill. The farmland is breathtaking, and there are plenty of beautiful, "Kodak moments" if you happen to like that sort of thing. And don't forget to look for quilts on the barns along the way. There are plenty to be seen in Grainger County, one of the largest participating Appalachain Quilt Trail counties.

At the end of TN 131, turn onto 25E to go up the mountain. There are two ways up to cross over the Clinch Mountains (that are passable by cars) and this is one of them. The other is on Joppa Mountain, but we'll save that for another day.

As Clinch Mountain crests, there is a very accessible lookout parking area. Veteran's Lookout to be exact. The view is astounding. Make sure you stop in to look down on Cherokee Lake, Morristown and Bean Station.

Also, while you are there, and if you can take your eyes off the view long enough, make sure you look at all the fossils in the rock that make up the stone wall guard rail. Long ago, when they were blasting the area to make way for the road, they found all those fossils in the rock. They used this to build the wall. Although it has been extremely vandalized over the years, we did find a few fossils without marks on them, which you can gander at in the photos below.

After taking a few moments at the lookout, we turned our backs on the view in favor of filling our bellies. The Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant, "Home of the Vinegar Pie" sits right at the side of the lookout.

Now don't let the sight of this place fool you. We know there are some folks that won't eat at a place that's not as fancy-smancy on the outside as the inside. But if you're reading this blog, you probably don't mind if the paint's not fresh and the wood boards are chipped.

Upon arriving, we were greeted with smiling, friendly faces. We arrived around 5:30pm and didn't leave till nearly 7:00pm. Please note that they are open 7 days a week, open at 7:00am and must close by 7:00pm since we found the closed sign had been turned upon on leaving.

We were not the only people there, but there wasn't many. We chose a table at the back and found that they have a music venue set up back there. From what we've gathered on the Internets, they have live Bluegrass music each and ev'ry Friday night.

We were promptly attended to by a wonderful, jolly lady who probably thought we were food critics of some kind since we were taking pictures of everything and asking many questions about the menu.

She requested our drink order. They serve Pepsi products, tea, & coffee. We had a chance then to look over the menu while she got our beverages. They serve a variety of items, but the menu's not huge. Prices are very reasonable, taste is country-to-the-bone, and breakfast is served all day. Friday is all-you-can-eat fish fry, and Saturday is all-you-can-eat chicken fingers. Four of us opted for the country fried steak with brown gravy. You get two sides with a dinner platter, and between the four of us we chose mashed potatoes, fried okra, soup beans, and coleslaw. You also get a biscuit or corn-muffin with your supper. It's an enormous amount of food for the price you pay, and we even brought some food home! Ashby opted for the BLT and some mozzarella sticks, both of which she thought was the best she'd ever had.

After stuffing ourselves with some of the best home-cooked food we'd had in quite some time, we took our chances at blowing up and ordered dessert. Two pieces of vinegar pie, two pieces of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and one strawberry ice cream cone were delivered to our table promptly.

Now if you've never had vinegar pie, and if you're scratching your head right about now like we did, you need a little history lesson. Back in the time of the Depression, lemons were scarce. So people started using vinegar instead of lemon juice. Thus, vinegar pie. It looks just like lemon pie, but it definitely has a distinct flavor. Too distinctive for me (Robin). It was definitely different. Not really bad, but unappealing to my palette. Tim and dad liked it though. Ashby thought it was okay. Mom wouldn't even try it and stuffed her mouth full of the strawberry-rhubarb, which I thought was most excellent. As for Ashby's ice-cream - well it was no little Baskin & Robbins scoop. It was quite large, just like all the other portions we had encountered.

At the end of our meal, our waitress (whom I regretfully did not request her name) brought us a box for our leftovers and a tab for $51.00. Can't beat that with a stick. After the tip (and we typically tip way more than 15% in places like this) the meal was roughly $12.40 per person. Not bad - not bad at all.

With our bellies stuffed, and a nap ensuing, we headed for home. This time we took 25E towards Tazewell and took 33 South home. It was an excellent summertime journey with many things learned, lots of memories formed, and a flavor our tastebuds will never forget.

The Lookout

Mom and Dad

The View

Aww... Kissing the rugrat

Peepaw and Ashby


YAY! More Fossils

Nuff Said

The gang minus one.
(Someone had to take the photo)

You don't see this at some fancy-smancy restaurant.

The Menu Pg.1

The Menu Pg. 2

Mmmm.. Food!!!

Mmmm... More Food!!!

Mmmm...Vinegar Pie!!!

Mmmm...Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!!!

Mmmm...Strawberry Ice Cream!!!

Look! They even have cabins.

Perseids Meteor Shower and Iridium 12 Satelitte Flare

So this week we had the pleasure of heading up to the field above Aunt Betty's house to take in the spectacular view of the Heavens. As a matter of fact we went up there twice this past week. The first time was Wednesday night. We headed up there, we as in the whole family (Robin, Ashby, Mom, Dad, and Clover the trusty sidekick) around 9:30pm after we packed the jeep with blankets, chairs, pillows, snacks and the like. We got up there around 9:45pm after a nice off-road trek up the ridge to get there as always. By 10:00pm we had the blankets spread, the chairs out, our binoculars at the ready and even the HT (Handy Talkie).

So there we were, all on our backs looking up at the celestial bodies when we viewed our first meteor streak across the sky. That's correct, our purpose this time was to watch the Perseid Meteor shower. Of course we were a night late for the peak but for good reason. On Tuesday it was cloudy and rainy so there was no chance to take in the event. However, Wednesday was just as well. We stayed up there for a two and half hours and in total, we saw at least 65 total meteors between us. I have to say it was an amazing show. We also took in the sites of Jupiter and three of it's moons with Dad's monster 200x binoculars. We also got to view our magnificent moon as it rose above the horizon. It was indeed a marvelous evening to view our great evening sky.

Our next trip up to the field was Friday evening. I had noticed on that there was going to be a -8 magnitude Iridium Flare passing overhead that night and we decided we would head up there to check it out and see if there were going to be any more Perseids to watch. The flare was to occur between 10:18pm and 10:25pm. It was about 10:20 when I offered a dollar to the first person to spot the satellite. As it turns out, the Rugrat, with her eagle eyesight, was the first to spot it. It was a good thing to because it was just about to flare when we all glimpsed it. For those of you who don't know about Iridium Flares check out After that, we sat up in the field for another good two hours just passing the time with conversation, watching the evening sky, and catching a meteor or 10. We really didn't see a whole lot of Perseids that evening as it was pretty much the end of the shower. However, we did see a few and a couple that were not Perseids.

Anyway that was our time in the field. If you hear about an astronomical event coming up, like a meteor shower, visible comet, etc. my I suggest you get out to a field or a good viewing area outside of city light pollution and spend some time looking up. You'll be glad you did, I promise. As a matter of fact the Draconids will be coming up at the end of September first of October. Also the Leonids will be in November. I know it will likely be cold, but that's nothing a good sleeping bag, a few layers of clothing, and a thermos full of coffee or hot chocolate can't take care of.

Check out cool space stuff at

Have fun and get out doors. God provided us with a beautiful masterpiece.
Happy Trails and God Bless,
Tim and Robin

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The High Road or the Low Road to Rock Creek...

I awoke Sunday morning around 9:30am and started my normal ritual. I made the coffee, turned on the radios (HAM Radios that is), and then sat at the computer to surf for a few. It wasn't long after that that Robin was up and we sat together and surfed while sipping our coffee. I then made my way over to the HF radio to work a few stations on 10 meters....Wait, I know what you are thinking, I know this is our outdoor blog not my ham radio blog. It's called building a story.

Anyway, Robin and I eventually ended up out on the back deck drinking coffee and trying to decide what to get into. The weather was beautiful. Sunny, 70's, and low humidity. As you may or may not know, the last week and a half has been nothing but rain, rain, and yet more rain. So you can imagine how cooped up Robin and Ashby must have been feeling. Back to what to get in to. As I said, the weather was wonderful and we didn't want to be inside. So our options became, wash the outside of the house, pull weeds and try to clear our bank in the back yard, price our junk for a yard sale in September, or go hiking.

We must have toiled over our options for an hour or more. It was around 2:00pm when we decided that we didn't want to do any work and it was getting too late to do anything anyway. So finally we decided what to do after a brief amount of time sitting at the computer. We decided we ought to take our side kick for a walk, but where? We didn't want to go too far from the house, so that left us with two options; Big Ridge State Park for a typical walk, or Norris Dam State Park for a walk on one of its various trails. I had found a nice trail map for Norris, as we didn't know a whole lot about the trails, at least other than the fitness trail and the various short trails around the tea room. We decided to head to the west side of the park and hike one of the trails around the campground, Hootin Hollow Trail.

So off we were, making our way to Norris. We got there around 4:30pm or so, parked the car, and on our way from the Andrew's Ridge trail to reach the Hootin Hollow trail head. This stretch was about .5 miles to the trail head. Of course I spied on the trail map that there was another trail head in this area for the Rock Creek trail. In all actuality, I believed this trail would be more worth while as it seemed to go down to a creek and the lake. The other trail just lead up to the campground and really didn't seem to offer any natural wonders or items of significance.

Well the .5 miles from the Andrew's Ridge trail head to Rock Creek trail head is a gentle sloping grade on what appears to be an old jeep road. The terrain was soft, easy and sloped down gradually to the other trail heads. We got to the Rock Creek trail head and had a decision to make. Did we take the first turn off or the second? After looking at them we decided we would take the second because it look like it would be tougher to come up that one than the other one. I will add here that we were right. The half mile to the back of the loop was quite the descent. Looking at the topographical trail map it traverses 7 grade lines. Unfortunately the map didn't have increments for the lines, but if my guess is correct, each line is 100 feet. So the trail descended approximately 700 feet in just under a half mile. I don't know about you, but being in the shape we were (Robin and I at least) that would have been killer coming back up. The way down is a bit steep. I wouldn't recommend sandals or flat bottom shoes. This is definitely a trail you want good footwear on, like hiking boots or trail shoes of some sort. The terrain is gentle and soft and according to Robin not too bad on the joints. Seeing as I don't have the knee or ankle issues that she does, I'll let her be the judge on that.

There are plenty of poplars, maples, and other trees along the trail. We saw several different species of fungus (i.e. mushrooms), trillium here and there, and a couple different types of ferns. We saw several little frogs as well. Back to the trail though. The terrain is mostly gravel with some larger rocks. There were hardly any roots or anything that makes a trail tough when it comes to footing. There were several stretches where the ground was almost grassy.

We finally made it to the bottom of the ridge to the point where the loop heads back up, or you can take the side trail about 800 feet to the lake for what is an excellent spot for the kids to play or if you are a pair of hikers only.... Let's just say it's quiet, secluded, and looked like it didn't receive much traffic from other hikers. At this point in the trail you can see what might have been a natural spring feeding part of the creek.

We got back to the lake and I guess we stayed there for a good half hour or so to let the kids play. Robin got plenty of nice shots too. The trail back there follows beside and at some points in the creek bed. Of course in those spots there wasn't much if any water at all. After about a half hour, and the side kick thoroughly soaked, we decided it was time to head back. Besides, it was a little after 5:30pm by this time and we still had to run to town for a few things, get home and have dinner, and all the nightly routine stuff.

So back we traveled. This part of the trail is a nice gradual ascent up the ridge. It's approximately .65 miles up to the trail head. So that 700 foot elevation gain, as I said was much easier. Although the last .15 miles is probably the toughest but again it's only about .15 miles, so it's over pretty quick.

It took us about 30 minutes to get back up to the trail head. Along the way there are two little foot bridges and a big tree across the trail that you have to crawl under. On the way up, Robin spotted a deer in the middle of the trail. It wasn't but a second or two later that it darted into the woods and was out of site. We finally made it to the top and we were on our way out towards the car.

Overall, I thought it was a great trail. Depending on which way you take the loop, it can be either a moderate 1.7 mile hike or a hard 1.7 mile hike. If you go the way we did today (counter clockwise) it will be a moderate hike. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and especially the spot by the lake. Bring some water as well, on days like today we worked up a good sweat. Luckily, this time of the year the canopy is full and that helps keep it cool.

I hope that if you decide to go on this trail, you enjoy it as much as we did. Let us know what you think about it and share your stories with us by leaving us comments. And now for everyone's favorite part....

Happy Trails,
Tim and Robin

...The Pictures.

Andrew's Ridge Trail Head

A Fungus is Among Us

A View Through the Woods

Signpost at the Back of the Loop

A Hole in the Ground?
Looks Like a Dried Up Spring

The Secluded Cove

Leaves on the Water

Kiddo is Exploring the Area

The Side Kick Looking for a Rock in the Water

Up and Under
The Final Ascent