Even though we typically only go somewhere goofing off a few times per month and we split them up more, we just had to take advantage of the cooler weather!
We decided to go back to The Hidden Road, also known as Heintooga Ridge Road, which turns into Heintooga Round Bottom Road on Balsam Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I did check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway pages for closure information.
You start off via the Blue Ridge Parkway. We made it as far as the Masonic stone memorial last time but the gate was closed at Black Camp Gap. The guy there last time (with the cat) said that we did indeed need a higher clearance vehicle so we took hubby’s truck this time. After we had turned on to the Smokey Park Highway and passed where the gate was closed last time, we saw a nice waterfall right on the side of the road. We passed a turkey with the smallest trio of babies I’ve ever seen. The parent got out of the road and left her babies to follow behind. Not the best parenting skills. A few days later hubby passed another parent with small babies and this one puffed all up to protect her babies. I didn’t get a photo. Then we rounded a corner and coming out of the woods was a coyote! We’ve never seen a coyote in the wild. He was probably 30lbs and looked healthy and alert. I did try to take a photo but I still had my camera set on the settings for a silky waterfall and got nothing but a white blur, then he was gone. It was really neat to see him, I just wished I had set my camera back. Last time when we were in the area we saw an Elk. We kept a lookout for all sorts of wildlife but I really wasn’t expecting a coyote. After that, we saw tons of wildflowers but no more large wildlife.
Heintooga Road is 28 miles long and is pretty slow going to keep from getting bounced around. From the time you enter until you’re deposited at a Tribal Fish Hatchery, it’s pretty much downhill all the way as it descends from 5,535 feet to below 2,000. When we started on the road we passed a couple walking that said another vehicle had gotten stuck with the road out and had to call for help. We never saw where that could have possibly happened. We also realized we could’ve taken my car. I’m glad we had his truck though because we can see more sitting taller even if we didn’t need the road clearance. We got behind a Toyota Tundra but we both seemed to stop at different things so we were not on top of each other. The guy stopped, backed up and got out of his one time donning binoculars. I so wanted to know what he was looking at. We drove along the river, saw several small waterfalls and heard more than we saw. All of the waterfalls on the video while on Heinintooga Road were shot handheld while still sitting in the truck passenger seat. The only time we stopped and turned off the truck to get out was at the bridge. I thought that we missed the Heintooga Overlook until we got home and I saw I’d taken a photo of the sign. Guess we still missed seeing the overlook somehow. I read it was where the pavement stopped. Although most of this road is one way and I wouldn’t want to pass someone coming the other way, there are several spots you could pull off to hike some of the trails even if you did have to get off in the deep stuff to be totally out of the road and not blocking any part of the road or gates.
It took longer than we expected to go the 28 miles and we were hungry so when the road ran out at the ‘T’ we took a left and went into Cherokee to find something to eat. Last time we were there we ate a little pizza and burger place. This time we tried Newfound Lodge Restaurant and the burgers were terrific. The buffet was mostly fried food and not celiac friendly but I’m actually glad because those were the best burgers we’d had a long time. Way better than what I can make on the grill.
I didn’t wear my hiking boots because I thought we were just going for a drive but I did throw Adams waterfall book in the truck just in case we felt like finding a new waterfall. Hubby looked through it at lunch and decided most were too long of a hike for that late in the day.
Even though we’ve been to Mingo Falls before, we’ve never been to Upper Mingo Falls. He picked it. It was rated a 9 but it wasn’t very long. We went up all the steps going to lower Mingo Falls, and turned left at the top and started up the overgrown trail. You could see the trail the whole time (unlike one of our last hikes) but I can’t believe it is that overgrown. I know more people have to go up there. The elevation gain, I think hubby said was 200 or 400 for the .25 mile hike so it wasn’t the easiest. My heart was pounding, I was hot even though it was in the upper 50’s or low 60’s, my legs were getting all scratched up going thru the rhododendron. I was just sure we were going to see a snake or get into wasp or bees. I actually started feeling sick, like dry heaving sick. That happens to me going uphill. I so wished I’d thrown water or Ginger Ale in my bag from the cooler in the truck. We had them, I just forgot to load my bag with anything but camera gear. We did see a really unusual lizard. I’ve seen reddish brown ones, ones with blue tails, orange ones but never one like this. I think it was an Eastern Fence lizard. He held his ground on a rock in the middle of the trail. My legs had the shakes and I didn’t want to step on it so hubby tapped the back of it to get him to move off the trail, and the thing didn’t move away from us. It took off like speedy Gonzales past him and ran right between my feet. I don’t know what I would’ve done had it decided to go up my legs.
As we got closer to the downed chainlink fence on our right, the trail opened up quite a bit. You could actually see where you were stepping and saw a clear path. Adams book says to stay far from the right side and fence. The fence was down so if you did slip there was no hope if it stopping you and we could hear the falls to our right. We went up the rock more here where it was flatter to go across.
Upper Mingo Falls is stunning. I’m wondering since the later part of the trail is more open and clear if others are taking some other way up there than the switchback trail we followed? We’ve never seen one so covered in moss. Almost all the rocks had a carpet of green covering them. The two trees near where I took my photos from had all the bark missing for apx 6′ up. Made us wonder if a bear or another animal had marked its territory there? Probably just people because there were names carved in them too. One also had poison ivy growing up it and I wondered how much we’d walked thru bare-legged in shorts already that we didn’t see. The start of that trail really requited boots and jeans. Hubby had carried my tripod for me since the start when I need both my hands to start up the rock. It was clouding up so we just waited until a cloud covered the midday sun and I put on some of the filters to capture my photo while we were there.
Coming back down we passed another couple who asked if we were following a waterfall book. Yep, why else would we be on a goat trail 🙂
Even though we’ve been to Mingo Falls before, of course, we went again while we were right there. People were everywhere at this lower one, even going around the wood bridge and out into the falls. Some disappeared on river left and we didn’t see them come back across the water. That is part of what makes me think someone may have forged a new trail to the Upper Mingo Falls. We’ve never seen so many people going off the bridge and climbing around on the rocks in the water. We waited a really long time for me to get ONE photo without people in it.
Once home we realized we’d gotten into chiggers. I purposefully really soaped and let the soap sit on my legs to cut the oil from any poison ivy but of course, chiggers burrow under your clothes to bite you. The itchy red welts started popping up where our clothes had covered our skin. So much for Avon Skin so Soft being a deterrent.
The temps are back going back up to normal summer temps, (yuk) but I have some night photography on my shoot list and I agreed to talk at the camera club on book cover photography so you may see fewer post. Also, I can not believe that August is right here! I still haven’t kept up with the first bit of paperwork, or taxes for our businesses and I still need to cull my files on this computer.
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i didn’t know there was an upper mingo falls! now that i sorted the list i won’t make that mistake again!
It was listed as a 9, so not on my short list but we were there, and it was worth it! I just missed I think 3 near the last ones I visited and know you’ve been to some of those. Hate it when we get home and I take the time to read more and see we were right beside more. Wear jeans… I’m still itching from chigger bites and a bit of poison ivy.
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Super story, Kim. Really makes me homesick for the Blue Ridge and Hendersonville. It will really feel strange to go back there to “visit.” But visit I will. It’s too beautiful to remain just a memory. You are soooo lucky to still be there. 🙂
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I wasted so many years when I was younger not seeing what there was to see right around me. Trying to make up for it and see it all 🙂 and…. it’s not like your that far away.