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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Kristina convinced the family that they should see a "real" waterfall and she led them on
down to Ithaca falls. Despite living in Ithaca for 7 years I wasn't able to give coherent
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
This was a lot of fun, there was a really pretty stream running through
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
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
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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