Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Laurel Falls

If you are looking for one of the easier hikes to a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains, this is the one for you.  Perfect for all ages this hike is 2.6 miles roundtrip on a paved trail, with a steady climb but never overly steep.

Laurel Falls is very photogenic, especially after a good rain which is why we picked this day to hike it. I have never seen it with this much volume. It was absolutely beautiful!!
The day after we returned from Mt. LeConte it poured! We were very ready for a relaxing day so we spent the morning sitting on the deck with our coffee, watching the rain come down and turn the stream........
which normally looks like this......

into this.

Lots of firewood went floating by......

and even a chair. Hope that chair wasn't occupied at the time!

After all that rain we knew this was the perfect day to hike to Laurel Falls.

Laurel Falls is located about 3.5 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Little River Road.
This is the most popular waterfall in the park and it shows. Parking is limited so it can be very hard to find a place to park unless you get there early. We have hiked this trail several times but avoid it during peak seasons or weekends. One day we counted close to 100 cars in the lot and parked beside the road. No way would I go at a busy time like that.

It is late afternoon by the time we feel the rain has passed and when we get to the trailhead, there are only a few cars left in the parking lot. We met a few people on their way down, and by the time we reached the falls it was deserted. Just the way we like it!

This trail isn't know for it's views which are almost nonexistent except for this one spot. It's fascinating to watch the fog drifting up and down and over the ridges but we don't have time to waste. When we left town the skies were clearing but it looks like it could rain again.

The 80 foot waterfall consists of an upper and a lower section, divided by a walkway which crosses the stream at the base of the upper falls.

Another shot of the upper falls. Laurel Falls gets it's name from the mountain laurel and rhododendron that grows in abundance along the trail and overhang the falls. This hike was in September so of course it's not in bloom but here is a picture of mountain laurel from my archives.

The trails are so pretty when mountain laurel or rhododendron are in bloom.

The lower falls are harder to get a good picture of without climbing down a steep bank. I would have been tempted to try it if the rocks wouldn't have been slick from all the rain.

This is the best picture we could get of the entire waterfall. You can see the walkway that crosses the two sections.
About this time it started raining again. Not a gentle light rain either. I'm talking downpour!! It was a very wet hike back to the car but it was worth the hike to see the falls.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheesy Chicken Chowder

We like soup....a lot. As much as I'm ready for spring, the weather tells me it's still winter, and as long as it's winter, I'll make soup.
This hearty chowder sure hits the spot on a cold, blustery winter day and is one of our favorites.
Stay warm and enjoy!

Cheesy Chicken Chowder
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp pepper
5 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese or Velveeta cheese
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 pint frozen corn optional

1. In a 4 quart saucepan bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat and add potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes or vegetables are tender.
2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, add flour and mix well. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over low heat until thickened.
3. Stir in cheese and cook until melted. Add to the broth and vegetable mixture along with the chicken.
4. Cook and stir over low heat until heated through.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter is for the Birds

I've given a lot of love to the bluebirds at my feeders, so now it's time I give some of the other birds some attention too. After all, they all help get me through the long winter months.

Pileated woodpeckers are the most uncommon of the woodpeckers that visit my feeders. He mostly forages in this tree for suet and seeds hidden by the other birds. Visits are very sporadic although I hear his calls frequently in the woods.

 Blue Jays are very common at the bird feeders. While suet is what they eat most of the time, and lots of it, peanuts in the shell is what they go absolutely crazy over. They take as many as they can, as fast as they can, and hide them. Back and forth, back and forth. When they are all gone they go find them and eat them.  How they remember where they put them all I don't know.
They are not my favorite bird, but it's so funny watching them go crazy over the peanuts.

Tufted Titmice love peanuts in the shell as well. But they have to be very quick if they want to get any before the Blue Jays hog them all. This one got lucky.

The perky little Carolina Wrens always make me smile. They also love the freeze dried mealworms I put out for the bluebirds, and more often than not, get to them before the bluebirds do.

I'm not fat, I'm fluffy!


American Goldfinch


House Finch

Black-Capped Chickadee

White-Throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker

Dark-Eyed Junco
We always called Junco's snowbirds because they typically show up when the first snow flies.
I think this is the only winter bird that doesn't stay here to nest. They spend their summers in the extreme northern states or Canada. They do stay year round in the Appalachian Mountains. I frequently see them when hiking in the upper elevations in the Smoky Mountains.

Yellow-Shafted Flickers are usually pretty wary birds and hard to photograph but they seem to be getting a little bolder. I have spotted them at the feeders just about every day this winter. I just love the beautiful colored plumage on the Flickers.

Sorry, I couldn't resist another Bluebird photo. After all, they are my favorite bird.

And yesterday I spotted the first Robin. The first sight of a Robin is always symbolic with spring, although I know Robins remain in the area all winter. They tend to stay in flocks in wooded areas and are rarely seen. Some do move farther south for the winter, while Robins north of us may come here for the winter.
What is your first reliable sign of spring? For me it is hearing the spring peepers and the appearance of the Red-Winged Blackbirds. When I hear that first musical trill of a Red-Winged Blackbird, I know that spring has indeed arrived.

Friday, February 15, 2013

First Hellebore Blooms

It was the last week in January when I saw my first hellebore bloom. I should have taken a picture of it, but for whatever reason I didn't get it done and then it got covered with six inches of snow. Hellebores are tolerant of frost, but these have some damage due to repeated freezing and thawing which has become the norm around here. The hellebore I saw didn't have all the spots on it like these do.

  They're not fully open and they might not be very pretty, but that first bloom in the garden always gives hope that spring is right around the corner.

 This is a baby from one of my plants. It takes them 3-4 years before they bloom.

I noticed a few of my plants had all or some of their foliage nipped off. I thought they were deer resistant. I can tell the stems are there but nothing else. I don't know if the deer will eat them if they get desperate or what else it could be. I've never had that happen before.

Question: What is the first thing to bloom in your garden in the spring, and which do you look forward to the most? For me it's the hellebore's that bloom first and the one I look forward to the most is Virginia Bluebells.

Linking to: Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Wasn't it just Christmas?
As I was putting away my Christmas/winter decorations, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do on the mantle till spring. I don't do a lot of theme decorating, mostly seasonal.
Then it hit me. Do a Valentine mantle.  

I wasn't ready to put my snow mason jars away because it is still winter, so I incorporated them into my vignette.

 The Bible was given to me on my 11th birthday from my mom and dad. Oh, I remember how much I wanted a white Bible when I was young. Inside the front cover I had written, "This book keeps me from evil, evil keeps me from this book."

Wrapping jars or in this case a vase with jute, adds such natural warmth and it's so easy to do yourself.

 Happy Valentine's Day

Linking to: Creative Friday