quick unpack and look at yet another map took us back into the car and headed straight for the Oconaluftee Visitors Center on the southern edge of Great Smoky National Park. Once again, navigational issues and a misleading and occasionally missing in action road signs extended the trip a little more than anticipated, meandering through a village of Cherokee, which of course required that I belt out a terrible yet eerily memorable hit from the 80's band Europe entitled Cherokee. This amazingly awful ballad described the tribe's trip on the Trail of Tears and in a much less serious way, this driving nightmare was making me want to cry as well. But eventually we did arrive safely and hit up the first of many trails on this adventure: The Oconaluftee River Trail.
As we prepared for the hike, rangers "warned" of the elk that frequent the area. This didn't scare us away, but instead encouraged a return visit later in the week. That return visit was required because this initial trip featured no elk sighting. However, we didn't go away empty-handed. nature. From groundhog holes all over the place to a recently well-fed snake nearly discovered by my wife's hiking boot, nature was upon us in full force.
Embry enjoyed the hike immensely. She enjoyed observing the "surprise" snake and listening to the birds and frogs. We of course also took part of another stick race, a classic and continual event in our outdoor adventures.
Embry's favorite part of the hike was actually when we left the woods and toured the historic site right next to the river. Much like Old World Wisconsin, it featured rustic farmhouses and equipment, some gardens, and some animals. Chickens were the common creature of the history museum, though they didn't like staying ion the farm area and were always venturing closer to the actual visitors center. Embry was given permission to send them back to the farm ans she took the responsibility seriously. With momma's help, she chased the chickens away from the visitor center and toward the farm by clapping and repeatedly reminding the fowl to "come on chicken."
From there, it was time to drive once again to a less than easily marked area of the park: Mingus Falls, the first of many waterfalls. This drive and the 159-quad burning steps we had to scale to get to the falls led me to . . . .
TRIP TAKEAWAY #5 - Wisconsinites love the Great Smokies.
At the visitors center we saw a variety of Wisconsin-clad individuals including running into a family from my school. Once at the waterfall, as fate would have it, we ran into the same family again. Once exchanging pleasantries and continuing our trip up the many, many steps to the top, we enjoyed the view and had our picture immortalized by asking a family to take our picture. Where do you suppose the only other people at that time were from? Yep. America's Dairyland. So, in our 10 or so minutes at Mingus Falls, we ran into about 10 other people excluding ourselves and every single one was a Badger.
The long day was coming to an end, and despite the ups and downs (both literally and figuratively), it was a wonderful first day in the mountains. Yet, we had one more reason to celebrate. Today was Embry's 2nd birthday. We had a low key gift opening and cupcake at the cabin before calling it a night.
The forecast for the next day called for clouds and rain followed by clouds and rain. Would that stop the Dargatz Family from continuing their adventure the best way we know how? Not a chance.