We spent the better part of last week in Tennessee hiking at Pickett State Park. It was, in a word, delightful.
Cool and clear, the weather was perfect for tromping through the woods and we did just that, hitting trails both short and long. Wednesday was our most ambitious day as we struck out on the Hidden Passage trail, a loop route shown to be eight miles long. We knew we were doing more than that since we took several side trips to waterfalls and other interesting sights along the way but we were surprised when the track from Wayne's GPS showed we walked 10.5 miles. None of the other trails we did were nearly as long. The pictures that follow are from more than one trail and more than one day.
It was a second spring for us as the trees at the park were filled with fresh new leaves. For the most part, we were dwarfed by tall hardwoods but don't let this photo fool you; the path was seldom this level.
The trail heads were all at the top of the ridge but we found ourselves on the floor of the gorge more than once.
And if you go down, you have to come back up. Sometimes there were rock or wooden stairs like these but mostly we gained altitude via switchbacks. We gave Wayne's new knees quite the test over the course of our time there and they passed with flying colors. No complaints from him whatsoever.
Changes in elevation weren't all we encountered; we scrambled over and under some rocks too. This side trail on the long day was particularly worth it because it took us to a double waterfall. It was the perfect place to relax on a ledge and have lunch...as long as you didn't think too much about the long climb back up to return to the main trail.
The forest used to include stands of pine but beetles have pretty much wiped them out. These few sparsely-trees areas made us appreciate the dense shade that existed everywhere else. They had apparently had a significant storm a few days before we arrived as we saw damaged and downed trees along the highway as we neared the park. We climbed over or had to find our way around more than one tree blocking the trail, many still with green leaves on them.
We found things to go under, too. We saw natural bridges on three trails, one of which was a twin bridge or two arches. The power of nature, both in terms of dramatic events and more subtly over time, is just amazing.
We spent most of our time among the trees so when the trail gave us a panoramic view from the top of the ridge, we were almost surprised at the expanse of the gorge. Green as far as we could see.
But there was vastness at the lower levels too. That little dot of light in the dark is Wayne, just to give you some perspective. This was Hazard Cave which is, apparently, home to glow worms. We sort of entertained the idea of going to see them until the ranger said it was too early for them. Add to that the fact that it didn't seem to smart to attempt the steep and rugged section of trail after dark to get there...and that there were animal prints in the sand that clearly weren't made by puppy dogs. It would have been cool to see them though.
Up, down, over, under, through...it didn't matter; there was one constant on the trail: Mountain Laurel. The trails were lined with them and they were beautiful. In many spots the bushes were mostly buds but in sunny areas they were nearly in full bloom. We passed through one section on the long trail where the laurels lined both sides of the trail and were almost shoulder high. It was impressive. Our timing couldn't have been better and it was purely by accident.
I loved being back hiking again and I think Wayne did too. And while we're huge fans of national parks, there are plenty of amazing sights to be seen in state parks as well. We've made a vow not to wait so long before being back on the trail again.