Early Summer 2010

Living in the South means summer comes quickly. We went strawberry picking the first week of May.

We spend a lot of time pulling up bamboo shoots that are invading from our neighbors yard.

The weather has been hot off and on, luckily many of the parks here have splash areas full of sprinklers. The toddler usually enjoys these.

The toddler lost her favorite stuffed animal, but after a tense week he was discovered behind a shelf at the library, much to our relief.

One Saturday we thought we'd finally get to the Great Smoky Mountains. I made K drive through Pigeon Forge, as one has to experience that at least once.

We came early in the season to try to avoid the crowds, but of course that meant that due to construction some things we wanted to see were still closed. K was a bit disgruntled due to that; slow-driving sightseers who wouldn't use pulloffs didn't help either.

We went on a hike to Upper Meigs Falls, despite the parking area for it being completely torn up (we had to sneak past the construction zone to get to the trailhead).

The forests here are filled with rhododendrons, and the feel is almost tropical compared to an Ithaca forest. E cried in my ear most of the way there because we had forgotten her pacifier and we had lost yet another stuffed animal (we did find him back near the car).

Here we are at the falls. We had to ford the stream 5 times on the way here, which was a bit dicey as the water was just high enough to cover up the normal stepping stones.

The mountain laurel was blooming, the rhododendrons weren't yet.

Here you can see "The Sinks" (named due to logging train cars sinking here back in the day?). Notice the construction equipment blocking the access area:

Here's our GPS route. The cliffs gave the GPS a hard time as you can see, our real route was the dotted trail vaguely under where the GPS thought we were:

After that, we had a nice picnic lunch at the "Townsend Wye" (it's at a Y-junction where two prongs of the river meet):

Then, despite being tired from our first hike, we went on a second hike to see the Spruce Flats Falls.

The falls have flocks of butterflies flying around. Many of them were Tiger Swallowtails, but here's an American Painted Lady (identified for me by our wildlife consultant, K's mom):

Here's part of a GPS track, again the mountains were blocking the satellites:

Luckily the visitor center was open until 5pm so E got her first stamp in her park service passport book. I let E stamp it but the date didn't come out so the shop clerk made me stamp it again for her:

We then went to Maryville (pronounced more or less "Mar-vil", though I guess I can't complain about how it's said as I grew up in Maryland) to pick some more strawberries. E made a mess, though that seemed to amuse the other pickers. We then finished up the day by going to a nearby park and pushing E infinitely on the swings.
The next Saturday we drove north and saw some limestone arches. The Knoxville area has a spring show-off-your-garden type event, and one of them listed was the Savage Garden Arches area. According to the website this was open to visitors until the end of May, but when we ran into the owner (after missing the parking area) he seemed surprised anyone would still be coming, but said we could go poke around anyway.

We thought it would be small, but in fact it was a large area with lots of "big rocks" (as E would say).

The owner did warn it would be a bit overgrown, and it was. Poor E sometimes has to dodge branches as I can't always judge where she is when I'm ducking under things.

There was a side trail along the Coal Creek, which was pretty. I didn't realize the trail was so extensive or I would have had the GPS going. Here are some more formations:

After visiting the rock formations, we continued on to the nearby Little Ponderosa Zoo. It was a bit ironic that E's admission was free as she's the one who enjoyed the trip the most.

I'm only putting one picture here; if you want infinite cute pics of E with animals you'll have to go to the password protected pictures.

After the zoo, we tried to go to a park in Oak Ridge for lunch, but the online directions weren't helpful and the GPS made things worse. So we ended up going to a different park on the Tennessee River, where we had a nice shady lunch overlooking the lake. Then we went to the splash area. I was accused of not being fun because I didn't get in the water.

We made it home before the thunderstorms hit; it's been raining off and on every since. Today during a storm a fairly large sized branch fell off one of our trees and we had to saw it up. The perils of living in a house I suppose.
The next Saturday we went to Fort Loudoun State Park. Fort Loudoun was one of three forts with the same name built during the French and Indian War (the other two were in Virigina and Pennsylvania). The fort lasted 4 years before the indians captured it and burned it to the ground.

Here's the fort:

Here's E storming the fort. The fort wasn't always this close to the water, they had to raise the ground 17 feet and rebuild the reconstruction when the Little Tennessee was dammed up in 1979.

In addition to the walls, the fort is protected by a thick line of honey-locust bushes with 4 inch thorns. If that failed, E was manning the guns:

After poking around the fort we went for a 5 mile hike around the island the fort is on. They take their trail names a bit too literally in Tennessee:

Here's a GPS track of our hike. Sequoyah was born in a town (since flooded) near the fort, there's a museum for him on the south of the island.

After this we picked strawberries. We possibly got the last batch of the season, they were pretty picked over and after we got in the lady running the place had to start turning away potential pickers.

After strawberries we went to a park in Alcoa to eat a picnic lunch and to let E play on the playground. Then, since it was hot, we went to the pool at the park. It was a fancy pool, with a cool wide water sliding-board. I even went into the water, believe it or not.

At the end of May we made the long drive (14 hours) to Cornell so that I could walk at graduation and get my PhD. We stopped in McSherrystown along the way to see my grandmother. Our friend Heather was nice enough to let us stay at her place in Ithaca, as she was out of town.

On Saturday we went to campus and then I got semi-lost finding cap & gown pickup. You'd think after 7 years I'd know where various buildings were. I did roam by the stadium and overheard part of Nancy Pelosi's convocation speech.

I got to the ECE grad venue and we PhD students eventually managed to get ourselves sorted into our proper order in line. Meanwhile little E was causing problems by running out the door, and the graduation staff didn't want to let her back in because they already took her ticket.

Here's my advisor Sally announcing me. If I had known they'd read off the entire title of my dissertation I wouldn't have made it so long.

Here I am being hooded:

And here I am after getting off the stage, sitting with my guests for the rest of the ceremony. My parents couldn't make it (my poor sister just got out of the hospital...) so my sister-in-law L and her boyfriend W were nice enough to come instead.

E was causing trouble; she kept losing her pacifier under the seat of the guy next to us who very obviously didn't like little kids.

Here I am with Sally and my co-worker Karan after the ceremony:

And here I am in my full regalia. The tassle on the hat is facing the wrong way, someone corrected me later. In theory if I am a professor I am supposed to own my own regalia, though it's very pricy. My in-laws were nice enough to buy me my own hat, so I'm slowly accumulating a full set:

We were going to go to the PhD recognition ceremony, but after getting there it appeared like it would be many hours of non-exciting sitting around. We weren't sure if we could keep Elena happy that long, so we opted to take a walk through a nearby garden instead. By chance Jen from GCF walked by, so we had fun talking to her. After initially being shy, E spent most of an hour playing with Baba and the hose in various ways (giving Baba a fake-bath, giving herself a fake-bath, playing see-saw with Baba on the hose, repeat).

In the evening we went to see our friend Brandon. He made us a very nice dinner, and we provided a Boston Creme Pie we made for desert. The cake was a dual-purpose birthday / graduation cake.

On Sunday we relaxed a bit in the morning before going to campus (after the main graduation) so I could drop off my robes and pick up my diploma. We had an easy time parking; the traffic attendant waved us past the road barricades for some reason.

Next we went to our friend Becky's house to meet some GCF friends and play Once Upon a Time. K's sister L was nice enough to walk down from campus and joined us.

After that we went with L to see her boyfriend's extended family. They were over by the suspension bridge looking at the small waterfall there. The campus bridges now all have big ugly anti-suicide fences (due to a wave of suicides earlier in the semester).

E looked through the fence and promptly dropped her pacifier over the edge. Luckily we had a backup. Also luckily it wasn't Baba she dropped over or I would have had to go down to the bottom and look for him. Here's a picture of the gorge; it's fuzzy because the fencing confused the camera's auto-focus:

Kristina convinced the family that they should see a "real" waterfall and she led them on a hike down to Ithaca falls. Despite living in Ithaca for 7 years I wasn't able to give coherent directions on how to get to the Falls from campus, but everyone made it there OK.

Here's the falls. E's pacifier was probably going over the falls as we watched, the beginning of its 8-year journey to the ocean.

After that we said goodbye to W's family. We went to Stewart park for a bit. We had forgotten they have a splash-pad there too, though nowhere near as elaborate as the ones in Tennessee. Here we are on a swing overlooking Cayuga Lake:

We then met my co-worker Karan's family and my advisor Sally for dinner at Taste of Thai. The reservations were at 8pm and E was amazingly well behaved considering it was past her bedtime.

On Monday we went hiking with L and W at Buttermilk Falls (which was a bit dry). It was hot out, hotter than Knoxville was, which seems a bit unfair.

The swimming area at the falls is closed for budget reasons. It was a bit odd being back, with minor changes like this. Another weird experience was going to "our" P&C grocery store which was bought out by Tops while we were gone. Another change is the new (really ugly) New York state license plates.

E was getting some good views of the falls from her backpack perch. She didn't fall asleep until we got to the more boring woods-only side of the hike.

It is late in the season for wildflowers, but we did see some wild geranium blooming:

I was playing around with getting some panoramas going:

Here's the pinnacle, with a pot hole at the bottom:

We were getting unusually good GPS reception:

After the hike, L and W had to get ready to head back to Maryland.

In the afternoon we went to see one of E's playgrounp friends. His parents were nice enough to have a cookout for us.

After that it was time to go to the airport! I flew back to Knoxville, leaving E and K behind. They saw some more Ithaca friends, gave K's Texas aunt and uncle a tour of the finger lakes, saw friends in PA, saw my family in MD, and visited college friends in MD. Then they drove back to TN.

It was quiet here with everyone gone. The only real excitement was Saturday when someone from Alabama drove up and delivered a pinball machine that my dad bought, on the theory that TN is closer to AL than MD is. I did find time to finally work on my fancy CPU meter.
It continues to be hot and humid here in Knoxville; not yet Maryland-hot but definitely worse than Ithaca. I don't mind the heat, what I mind are the excessively large insects that sneak into the house. Plus, we are back to living in a mosquito zone: you get spoiled in Ithaca.

We have a nice garden, though only because the previous occupants of this house did a lot of work. It's currently lily season:

On Saturday we woke up early and went to Cades Cove, one of the most reccommended places to see in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It seemed like it was the place everyone went, so we joined everyone all rushing to go there on a Saturday summer morning.

On certain days (including Saturday) the road is restricted to bicycles and pedestrians before 10am. We managed to time things right and get there as they were opening the road.

The road is a one-lane one-way 11-mile scenic loop. The speed limit is 20mph but you end up trapped behind people who keep slamming on their brakes because they've never seen mountains or deer before. Poor K was driving; she has little patience for people who can't drive at an efficient speed.

Here's a view. Maybe the haze was obstructing the view, but we thought it looked more-or-less like any other back road in the smokies, only with the run-down houses being more historic.

We eventually made it 5 miles along the loop, and stopped for a 2.5 mile hike to a waterfall. It was hot, cloudy and spitting rain, but luckily the rain never picked up. For the first part of the trail we had to elbow past slow people slowly walking 3-across and blocking the trail.

There were lots of wildflowers, including wild bleeding heart, wintergreen, butterfly pea, and indian pipe:

By coming in June we hoped to see the rhododendrons in bloom, but we apparently missed that by a few weeks. You can see that there are rhododendrons everywhere, they surround this cool flat waterfall:

We finally made it to Abrams Falls:

We were one of the first to make it here; it quickly filled up as we were looking around. This is a popular falls because people like to ignore the "this many people have drowned here" signs and swim in the wide pool at the base of the falls.

There were some cool butterflies there, and also some potholes:

We were the first people to leave, so we had to answer many inquiries by the people we met on the way back who were heading to the falls.

E is getting heavier, and I am out of practice. I was tired by the end of the hike. Here's a plot of our route:

We then got back in the car and drove further around the loop, hoping traffic would be better. No such luck. We were stuck in a long traffic jam, including a full-stop. It turns out it was bear related. Here you can maybe see two bear cubs in the grass:

We saw the more impressive mama bear on the hillside above, but no picture of her. We got by there and thought we were home free, but then we were stopped behind more bear rubberneckers looking at another bear far off under a tree.

We did finally make it to the end, and stopped at a picnic area for lunch. This was a lot of fun, there was a really pretty stream running through it.

My new plan: if I am ever being chased by a bear, I'll throw a watermelon at it:

There were lots of ebony jewelwing damselflies:

After leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we went to see the nearby Tuckaleechee Caverns. It is highly rated, as far as privately-owned caves go.

E really enjoyed the cave, which was good, as we were worried it might freak her out. It's hard getting pictures of people and cave at the same time, especially with a camera like ours.

Most caves we've been to have very strict rules, but this one was very easy going. Pictures weren't a problem. They also let you touch things as long as they weren't still growing (that is, they weren't wet).

There was an underground river running through the cave, which I thought was really cool. You can possibly see it here below this neat formation:

Here's the grand room of the cave, where they did the turn-off-the-lights show. It's bigger than it looks; some of the pillars across the room are over 20 feet tall.

The tour guide encouraged people to drink from the underground stream, something that doesn't usually happen on cave tours.

At the end there was a really cool waterfall falling from above. It's probably hard to see in this picture.

After that we returned to the surface world.

The roads in this area are lined with large numbers of Mimosa trees, so it's good my Dad isn't here (he's very allergic). (Also it turns out these trees are technically Persian Silk Trees, though most people call them Mimosas).

I shoudn't have said anything about it not being too hot; the weather has been in the 90s all week and the forecast is for it to stay that way indefinitely. It's like the Ithaca winter forecast in reverse: instead of 20° and snow showers every day, it's 90° and thundershowers every day. At least the humidity isn't as bad as it is in Maryland.

We acquired a grill on craig's list and we've been using it when we can. We like eating outside, but the insect life has gotten more aggressive recently.

On Saturday we went to Panther Creek State Park. We left early in the hopes it would be cooler. We were the first people on the trails; we could tell because I ended up with a thousand spider webs across my face.

This park had a 7 sinkholes trail. Unlike previous parks we've been to, this park's sinkholes were easily recognizable. It's hard to capture the depth of the holes in the pictures; we need to get one of those new 3-D cameras.

We then hiked up and up and up to get to an overlook. This is another park on a dammed up river; in this case we're overlooking the Cherokee Reservoir. It was a hazy day:

We then hiked back down. The forest is full of cucumber magnolia, which gives it a different feel than a northern forest. We took a side trail that took us down to a nice beach on the lake.

We originally were going to do more at the park, but thunderstorms came through. Sad, but it did cool things down by about 20 degrees.

Here's a track for our hike:

On the way home we went past a giant turbine that was slowly making it's way from Knoxville to VA, blocking traffic for miles. Luckily it was going in the other direction.

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