Shadow Seasons, Best of Smokies Part Deux – Cades Cove

Cades Cove Bikers in Morning Mist

Cades Cove Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When I was a kid, Dad took our family ‘on patrol’ on Sundays. In a beat-up green Jeep, plastic windows zipped up or down, weather depending. My brother and I would complain and try to get out of the trip if we suspected it might involve long-winded visits on stuffy couches with relatives who we thought were ancient but most likely were about 10 years younger than we are now.

But if Dad wanted to drive off-road over craggy old stream beds with a fire tower as our destination, we were the first to snap our seat belts tight. We loved the bouncing, the wild feeling of discovering something new, going ‘off trail,’ red clay mud spattering the jeep tires. Wild.

I thought of Dad a few days ago, while ‘on patrol’ in Cades Cove (at a slower pace and not in a jeep) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He loved outdoors. Fall got him going. “That’s a hemlock leaf,” he’d say, picking up the leaf and showing us the spines. “The red one there in the path’s a maple.” Then he’d make us guess on our own, encourage us to remember them. All of which came in handy when I needed a leaf notebook for biology class. (Our teacher bestowed an ‘A’ on said notebook, but never returned my work. Saw it later in the principal’s office. Maybe the principal’s son got an ‘A’ too?).

When Dad drove our family car – a factory issue Checker Cab, 70s gold-flake painted with a vinyl black top – he’d always urge me to ‘get your head out of the book’ and enjoy the leaves. For a minute, I’d snap the book covers shut, lean back and let the leaves flood my face with shadows and light and green and red and gold, a stained glass kaleidoscope that dizzied my brain, spaced out my thoughts. Made me believe I could live in another world. Then I’d rebel, flick the book back open and delve into an imaginary land.

Something about fall and turning leaves and returning to East Tennessee drives me to sew sinews into the bones of  my past, stitch them to my future. While my Dad loved to find new trails, my mother’s side of the family embraced the recurring comfort of annual reunions in cabins with fireplaces and a full kitchen from which fierce chili-cooking contests would launch. Reunions in Townsend, the so-called ‘quiet’ side of the Smokies.

In honor of fond memories, I cajole my husband to go with me to Cades Cove. But we pick the wrong day – a day where cars choke the 11-mile one-way asphalt loop through the old cabin-studded farming community. Once we find the Abrams Falls trail head, we release held-in breath, relax, strike out with fresh faith on the 5-mile round-trip hike to the falls.

“See?” I ask him. “This is nice, right? Worth the Atlanta-like traffic, hmm?”

Once he hits the trail, his faces takes on the features of a 5-year-old and I see a camel-colored Boy Scout shirt wrap his torso. He’s at home. He’s thinking about what it would be like to hike the Appalachian Trail. We walk for a while, silent, listen for the water, a woodpecker, crunching stone underfoot.

The Abrams Falls hike will always belong to my cousins, the firsts, seconds, the once-removed, the thirds of the Vannoys. For years on the Saturday of the reunion – the last Saturday in October, usually about one week past peak leaf-peeping season – the grown-ups assigned the oldest cousin the task of leading a hike and getting us out of the cabins so they could sit and talk in peace. Or cook. Or whatever boring things they did while we were absent.

On this day, each time my boot strikes a root or lifts over a rock, ghosts of cousins’ former selves prowl ahead of me. Skinny kids, freckled faces, elbowing ahead, eager to be first. Calling out taunts. Pretending they’ll show how brave they are by plunging into midnight dark water cold as frost on summer’s last grass. (In October? None of them dared.) Today we’ll settle for watching other’s kids in the deep pool beneath the falls.

On our next trip, a few days later, we arrive early Saturday morning in the rare hours where the one-way loop’s closed to cars – starts at 7 and ends at 10 a.m. We unload our bikes, tuck water bottles into a backpack (I suggest hubby take the backpack). And I bike 11 miles without ‘walking’ my bike on the toughest hills. Like the tough Girl Scout I was.

So much fun we try it again on Wednesday morning, summer grass fog-swept, tree leaves dusky summer’s end green, a few days before September ends.

Later we discover it’s the last day of the season when the loop will belong only to walkers, bikers, wild turkeys, bears, hawks and deer. After that, the leaf-peepers invade.

Cades Cove calls us to remember the passing of seasons.

Vine on Cades Cove Log

Vine on Cades Cove Log

Barn to Barn

Barn to Barn

Rust on Painted Wagon

Rust on Painted Wagon

Shadow Wheels

Shadow Wheels

©Sybil McLain-Topel and, 2014, 2015, 2015, 2017. Unauthorized use or duplication of  material without written permission from Sybil McLain-Topel is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, however, please give full and clear credit to Sybil McLain-Topel and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Best View and Hike in the Smoky Mountains Part One

View from Clingman's Dome

View from Clingman’s Dome

Spiders spinning webs. Sybil spinning cover letters. It must be Fall.

Spider web in forest

Spiders in forest mist

Where’s this blogger been?

Writing (my book, not my blog). Hiking. Biking.

Cades Cove 2014 and other September photos 100Wrapping up writing gigs, searching for writing work disguised as a job with health benefits and writing blog posts for other professionals.

Back to hiking.

Last Saturday we tackled Clingman’s Dome.

Cades Cove 2014 and other September photos 128Stunning. Windy. Fun.

Cades Cove 2014 and other September photos 119Smoky Mountains festooned with fog, clouds as perfect as if posing center stage for a final bow, wildflowers out for a last waltz before frost.

Cades Cove 2014 and other September photos 159Enjoy the photos.

Cades Cove 2014 and other September photos 146At the end, please check out my curated list of websites with more info and pix. Fascinating stuff on the woolly adelgid, the cause of the spiked snags of naked Fraser fir tree trunks, other people’s photos and official park information.

Cades Cove 2014 and other September photos 137Please share the love with your comments and favorite hiking resources.

My list

One of my favorite photographers. Upon request she can provide aerial photos of the Smoky Mountains that are stunning:

Rachel Paul Photography

A book and more:

Great tips on hiking, a curated book list, blog focuses on the Smokies, Georgia, Florida, Alabama:

A robust, tourist-oriented site:

Official State Park site – Always check for weather alerts, road closures, seasonal closures and miscellaneous other events that might ruin a well-planned trip, like wild roves of juvenile male bears attacking random hikers (that was a joke). They travel alone, not in ‘roves.’ :

Some do’s and don’ts and research sites for people who find themselves easily snarled into a virtual vortex of cool things to know about the forest. It’s all about the bugs, not the pollution. It’s the woolly adelgids that kill Fraser firs.

Who knew? Don’t cart firewood from one place to another:

Because those bugs then go to new places:

Other Tennessee hiking areas hit by the woolly adelgid:

(Friends of Fall Creek Falls State Park)

(Friends of South Cumberland State Recreational Area)


©Sybil McLain-Topel and, 2014, 2015, 2015, 2017. Unauthorized use or duplication of material without written permission from Sybil McLain-Topel is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, however, please give full and clear credit to Sybil McLain-Topel and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Found Art

My family and social media followers want to know where we are, what we’re doing and where we’re going. We’ll let you know when we arrive. Most days, contentment sneaks up on me while I snap photos and wonder when I’ll ever have this kind of free time again. Before we left Santa Rosa Beach we discovered the Bayou Arts Center ‘north of 98,’ as the locals say. You could say art found us.


Found Art Detail Driftwood black and white Black and White art from 30A Songwriters Festival Found Art Bayou Arts Center Found Art Detail

Path to St. Francis Chapel. I’m sure there are snakes. But I’m curious.

Path to the garden Bayou Arts Center South Walton Beach Santa Rosa Beach

St. Francis Fishermen's Chapel Exterior View with Pines St. Francis Fishermen's Chapel Front Santa Rosa Beach Florida June 2014_2Prayers at the altar of shells and candles.

Fishermen's chapel altar 2014 Walton County enhanced horizontal over enhanced cropped again

Wildlife Refuge and Pet Cemetery, discovered. Pet Cemetery and Wildlife Refuge Santa Rosa Beach Pet Cemetery

A note and a prayer.


Saint Francis sign Walton County 2014

Lord My Boat St. Francis Chapel

Toward the beginning of June, right after graduation, we try to find a place to stay in Santa Rosa Beach after the condo buy falls through. Through a local who knows a guy, we talk to the guy in Germany who lives in Atlanta who agrees to rent us his place at a reasonable long-term rental price. Night of the living moth balls. In a misguided attempt to ward off mildew, the owner has inserted moth balls into the HVAC units and left the place closed up for three months. Nothing we do removes or airs out the smell. We admit defeat and drive to a Best Western in Defuniak Springs. Highlights of Defuniak Springs include the state’s oldest still operational library and a perfectly round lake.

Oldest library in Florida

Oldest library in Florida

Brief History.

Perfectly Round Lake.

That Monday, we say good-bye for now to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, pack what’s not in storage in Atlanta into the car and head for new adventure in Key West.