Looking glass rock

Hanging out on a Pluton

 

Autumn at Looking glass rock

What it the world is a Pluton?

Plutons are magical places in our ancient hills.  They are like huge rock bubbles that you can climb up to get some of the most spectacular views in the Blue Ridge.  The above picture is a view from John’s Rock overlooking another pluton, called Looking Glass Rock.  On this hike, Tom and I got to witness 2 beautiful bald eagles flying below us and fishing on the river.

This is a day trip from our cabins.  We actually left about 10 am and stopped in Waynesville, NC to grab some lunch at our favorite burger joint, the Church Street Depot, then off to the Shining Rock Wilderness area on Hwy 276.  This takes you past the Cradle of  Forestry, Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls to name just a few places along the way. So, leave earlier if you want to visit these along the way, then you will have the whole day to enjoy this area.  There is much to see.  The trailhead to both the plutons is just past Looking Glass Falls on forest service road 475 C which will be on your right.  Looking Glass Rock trail is on the right and then John Rock is on the left at the Pisgah Wildlife Center and Fish Hatchery.

The Best Views in the Blue Ridge are from the Top

We love the plutons.  There are two that you can climb. Although it is a bit of a challenge and fairly steep in places,  both trails are worth the climb.   These pictures are from our hike along the loop trail at John’s Rock.

Hiking Suggestion

Make sure you check the map at the kiosk at the trailhead so that you note the proper turns.  The trail is well marked with signs. The loop is explained in the link above.  It will take you by Cedar Rock Falls which is a beautiful spot to take a break, or a swim if it is warm enough.

Cedar Rock Falls

Looking Glass Rock: A  Vertical Challenge

Looking Glass Rock trail is more challenging, longer and steeper than the John Rock trail.  It is a spectacular climb for those who like to climb.  Therefore, this trail can be challenging and rocky in place.  Also, one must navigate some pretty rough and washed out places on the trail. However, the views are definitely worth the effort.

In addition, this is a coveted place for rock climbers.  Also, it is a rare nesting place for peregrine falcons. If you are lucky you will see them dive.  They are spectacular.

Looking glass rock

 

Chicken Love: Name that Couple

As many of you may know, Tom and I have become quite the chicken fans.   Every spring we get baby chicks.  We nurture them until they are old enough to move into the main coop with the older hens.  This can involve crazy things we never thought we would do, like loading Tom up in the early evening with 8 young chickens and taking them to the coop.

This is because the older hens tend to pick on the new ones.  They will peck their heads and bully them.  But, if you wait until evening, chickens sort of “shut off.”  They actually go into a dormant state.  These creatures that can fly, run and twist making it impossible to touch them during the day, will allow you to pet them, pick them up and even carry them around like some kind of a chicken tree transport system.

I tell you this because I want you to fully understand how hard it is to get chickens to be nice to each other and come together as a flock.   Once the social system is established, however, a flock of chickens will glide along as one grazing, pecking unit intent on finding the juiciest worms, or begging incessantly to be fed by their owners. But, there is a pecking order.  There are societal rules.  Only the alpha girls make it to the top roosting stick.

So as you may know from my previous blog post,  we are down to one chicken.  This created a bit of a dilemma.  If I were to try to introduce some new hens, it could be disastrous.  I kept envisioning my poor sweet survivor as a bloody headed, henpecked calamity.

In case you didn’t know, all of those chicken idioms are true.  “Henpecked”, “pecking order”, “rule the roost”, “feather’s flying”,  “the sky is falling”, “birds of a feather flock together”, all describe chicken anxiety.  So, we just had to find another way.

Her loneliness and desire to find her flock was evident by her willingness to hang out with me and Tom on our porch at all hours of the day.  This would have been fine, except for the poop.  In case you didn’t know, chickens poop a lot.  And it is nasty and hard to clean off of your porch. So, our being her flock was not a good solution.

And poor Dandy, our dog was very confused.  We had trained her to keep the chickens off the porch for the reasons mentioned above.  She found great joy in jumping up, scaring off the hens and making them fly off our porch. Now she was being denied this small joy and working hard on being calm when the chicken was around.

So I looked at  “sweet chicken” as I was beginning to call her and said, “Ok darling, we are going to have to just pray up a mate for you.” And we sat down together and did just that.  We put it out to God and all the chicken angels out there that she needed a mate.

Well, lo and behold,  I went to my community exercise class the next week and there was a woman announcing that a rooster had taken up in her woods.  She already had roosters so she could not take this one into her flock.  She wanted to know if anyone would like to help her catch and relocate this rooster.

Well, of course, I said I would.   How could I deny such fate?

So the next Sat. I got the phone call and off I went to capture this rooster. Now, you may not know this, but there are over 500 breeds of chickens.  Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be of the same breed. Well, of course, he did.

I had no idea what was going to happen that evening after transporting him across the community in a cage.  But, he was calm and content as I put him, cage and all in the coop.  My “sweet chicken” who was on the top roost, slowly came down to check him out.  She walked around the cage a couple of times and looked up to me as if to say, “well aren’t you going to let him out?”  So, I opened the door and released him.  He stepped out of his cage in a regal manner and calmly greeted her.  Then he hopped up on the top perch, she hopped up and they went to sleep.

I awoke at dawn and went to the coop to let them out. I did not want any cooped up emotions causing the feathers to fly.  My fears were unfounded as they emerged a sweet chicken couple.   They strutted and strolled all around the farm, like a southern debutante and her new beau at a formal cotillion. They cawed and cooed all the while exploring all the morning tasty morsels.  She showed him all of her favorite places and then brought him up to the porch to beg for breakfast.

They cooed and cawed in sweet, loving chicken language as she showed him all of her favorite hiding places, under the rhododendron bushes,( I am not sure what went on under there), in the forest behind the house, under the porch, around the compost bins where the  juiciest worms reside and, of course, the chicken day palace, where Tom and I often leave treats for them.

When evening arrived, he crowed a few times and they went to the coop, hopped up on the top perch together and went to bed. This was pure chicken romance.

So here is where you come in.  I need a sweet couple’s name.  And, no, Romeo and Juliet are just too tragic.  Let me know what comes to mind.  Name this couple!

Murder of Crows Saves Chicken

I witnessed a crow miracle today.  The forest gifted us a miracle that saved my sweet little chicken’s life.Crows

This year has been a difficult one for our chicken flock.  We free range our hens, because we believe that freedom is a precious thing.   We have also heard horror stories of caged hens being massacred by creatures tearing through fences and taking the whole flock at once.

So, sometimes the forest will take a hen or two to feed someone.   This year, the fox came to visit. I think she was raising a den of pups.  She would come and take a chicken about once a week until we were down to one poor lonely chicken.  Since the disappearance of her flock, this chicken has become somewhat dear to us.

We have a little routine, she and I.  Every morning she comes up to the porch to check in.  Then she nestles into an old garden basket in my outdoor pantry and lays her egg.  She cackles loudly to let me know she is done, then she jumps up on the porch railing to wait for me to feed her.  It’s quite endearing.

So, as you can imagine, I find myself just praying for her safety and encourage her to stay close to the house.  She is pretty “forest wise” and she flies up into the trees when threatened.  Some of the other breeds don’t do this.  It’s curious because they can fly.  But, often when they are under attack, many chickens will not fly.  They simply run.  This makes them pretty easy prey in the chain of life up here. Anyway, this chicken is a Spangler.  She is pretty savvy.  And, I pray.

This warm summer morning,  as I was watering the plants on my porch, I heard this incredible ruckus.  The crows came flying from everywhere.  They dove through the sky from the north, south, east and west.  They were screaming their crow call and diving down in this one spot in our meadow.  The grass and flowers were quite high so it was hard to understand the scene at first.  The crows kept diving and cawing until the fox turned away from her path to the chicken coop and went running, tail between her legs back into the forest.

I ran around the house to check and there was my sweet chicken.  I was so happy to see her. I gave thanks to the crows for saving her for one more day.  It was a chicken miracle day at  Dancing Sun Cabins.  I am so grateful.

I do wonder if there are others who have witnessed forest miracles.  I would love to hear about them.  I find the forest to be a fascinating place to live in.

Max Patch Magical Morning

The AT crosses the top of Max Patch

Mornings on Max are nothing short of a miracle.  This morning we shuttled some of our guests up for a hike down to the cabins.  This is a wonderful 9-mile hike down from 4629 feet to about 2900 feet of elevation at the cabins.

Tom and I took the opportunity to walk over the “roof of our world” here in Spring Creek.   Max Patch is the highest point in our area and it never disappoints us.

On this fine morning. we were witness to a brand new baby elk being born.  When I captured her on camera, the distance and glare made it difficult to notice the baby.  I was very curious as to why she was alone, grazing in an open field.   The bulls are often alone, but most of the time the females are in herds.

We hope you enjoy this video which we entitled the Magic Morning on Max Patch.

For several years now, the National Park Service has been working to re-establish the elk in the Appalachian region.  This beautiful doe probably wandered over from the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.   Or, perhaps she split off from the two herds that are pretty well established in the Harmon Den area just below Max Patch on the drive over to I-40.

 

 

Hiking is endless at Dancing Sun Cabins

Hiking Tips

Here are some things to think about when hiking in our woods.

Max Patch hiking is the best
Max Patch is one of our favorite places to hike
  • Take a map along. We have provided maps for you to carry with you that will help you find your way in our forest and connect to the Appalachian Trail.
  • We take a Garmen GPS unit with us, but we ALWAYS compare it to our maps. GPS can get you lost around here and it rarely gives you a good idea about how long a trail might be.
  • The blazes for the AT are white. When you see 2 blazes, that means to pay attention as there is another trail crossing the AT.
  • In the summer, the understory gets thick with stinging nettles, poison ivy and blackberry vines. Come prepared for this, or plan to hike on trails that are heavily traveled.
  • We do have snakes here. Most are not poisonous. Rattle snakes make a pretty loud sound. Copperheads are shy and prefer not to be bothered. These are the only two kinds of snakes that are poisonous here. It is best just to leave them alone. If you should experience a snake bite, just stay calm and get to help. Slow breathing and keeping your heart rate low is the best treatment.
  • Yellow jackets can be ferocious if disturbed. Please be aware that they live in holes in the ground. It is best not to poke holes in the ground. If they come after you….RUN!!!! Run away from their nest and try to get them off of you. They can sting more than once. Jewel weed takes the sting away.
  • It is good to carry 50 mg of Benadryl and 150 mg of Zantac with you just in case you experience and allergic reaction.

Here is a link to little video on helpful and harmful plants you may encounter along the way.

Rankin Bottoms: A great place for bird watching

One of our favorite places to visit in the winter is Rankin Bottoms.

This unique wildlife area is located where the Nolichucky and French Broad rivers meet and enter Douglas Lake. This is a flood plane area.

The water level is managed by the TVA. The water level is dropped very low in the winter leaving mud flats and watering holes that are perfect areas for birds to gather. This high altitude swamp has unusual features such as Osage orange trees, Cyprus trees, and Honey Locusts.

This is often a warm sunny spot in the winter and a great place to see large birds such as Egrets and Herons. Geese,Sandpipers, Gulls and many other birds find this the perfect spot to feed. Check out what the Tennessee Ornithological Society has to say about this place. It’s incredible!

The landscape has unique plant life that create surreal colors and scenery. We find it a great place to wander.

​To reach Rankin Bottoms, you must travel to Newport, Tennessee. We advise going to Hot Springs and following 25/70. The road is not really closed even though the bridge is out. You can take Fugate Road, just go slow as the locals do. When you get to the end of Fugate, turn right on Hwy 107 and cross the bridge. Turn left toward Newport on 25/70.
Go through downtown Newport and bare right on Industrial Road. Stay on Industrial Road about 5 miles you will have to turn left to remain on Industrial road, the go another 5 miles until you reach Rankin Hill Road. There will be a Wildlife refuge sign here. The road follows the railroad tracks and is a little rough in places, though you do not have to have 4 wheel drive unless it is muddy.