Signaling Spring

Looking up the walk from the Signal Point Overlook to the parking lot

Looking up the walk from the Signal Point Overlook to the parking lot

Ahh, spring.  Winter teased us with warm spells followed by cold spells that seemed to get colder just when we thought it was almost over.  I found myself counting on those surprise warm spells about when they stopped coming.  While it’s premature to assume the cold weather is over, it sure was nice to have a sunny day in the 70’s on a Saturday for a change!

We decided we’d try something new and go to Snoopers Rock.  Reportedly, Snoopers Rock has the best view of the Tennessee River Gorge from Signal Mountain and it’s a short walk from the trailhead parking lot.  These were both pluses–my husband’s joints are suffering and he still isn’t up for more than a mile or two.

Revisiting Signal Point during the worst time of day from a lighting perspective called for Hipstamatic's Tintype kit

Revisiting Signal Point during the worst time of day from a lighting perspective called for Hipstamatic’s Tintype kit

Since Snoopers Rock is in the same park as Signal Point, we started driving towards Signal Point while I found directions on my iPhone.  We soon discovered we had passed the turn to Snoopers Rock.  Since we had most of the day, we decided to keep going, grab some lunch and make a detour up to Signal Point before heading on to Snoopers Rock.

Slightly different version of the same scene as above--I can't decide if I like it better or not

Slightly different version of the same scene as above–I can’t decide if I like it better or not

I switched apps to the Urbanspoon to see what food was available nearby.  We discovered the Southern Star Take-Out Cafe was right down the road.  I’ve heard of the Southern Star cafe–it’s supposed to have very good down-home fare.  The “Take-Out” is a second location that has foods designed to go.  We decided to give it a try.

We grabbed a couple cups of stew, a Waldorf salad, some sort of pea salad, and some of the sweetest sweet tea (even though we mixed it with unsweetened tea) we’ve ever tasted.

Leaning over the overlook rock wall, swatting flies, and shooting with the iPhone, I was happy I didn't drop my phone

Leaning over the overlook rock wall, swatting flies, and shooting with the iPhone, I was happy I didn’t drop my phone

At Signal Point, we sat in the car, overlooking the park, with the windows down eating our lunch.  The wind blew through the windows keeping us cool.  I smiled to myself as I ate, thinking how nice it was to need the breeze to keep from getting too warm.

Once our bellies were full (the food was yummy), we walked the 50 yards or so from the parking lot to the overlook.  I, of course, whipped out my iPhone, switched to Hipstamatic, set the “film” to D-Type Tintype style in black-and-white, and planned to take my time getting some images of the gorge.

In this shot of the steps up the hill, the steps in the foreground disappeared in the blur created by Hipstamatic

In this shot of the steps up the hill, the steps in the foreground disappeared in the blur created by Hipstamatic

This was about the time we discovered we weren’t the only ones enjoying the spring weather.  I’ve not been able to identify them, but they were something between a fly and a gnat and they were swarming everywhere.  They stuck to my clothes, in my hair, to my sunglasses, and even to my iPhone.  Tisen turned in circles chasing them and was quickly ready to go.

Pat and Tisen moved up to the gazebo in the hope of getting away from the bugs, but they were everywhere.  I ended up rushing my shots after all.  Tisen looked relieved when we headed back up the hill to the parking lot.

The Hipstamatic "lens" created a very shallow depth of field--only Pat remains in focus

The Hipstamatic “lens” created a very shallow depth of field–only Pat remains in focus (with his hair blowing in the wind)

Date Night Plus One

Last weekend, my husband suggested something fun, a little romantic, not strenuous, and inclusive of Tisen.  He suggested getting take out and going up to Signal Point to watch the sunset.

He had a craving for fried chicken.  This is monumental.  I have known my husband for going on 18 years now; he’s eaten chicken exactly twice in those 18 years.  The first time was last March.  I’m beginning to think southern culture is getting to him.

This craving resulted in me waiting inside NIkki’s Drive In for our dinners to be prepared while Pat waited in the car with Tisen.

While I sat, I pondered the meaning of “drive in.”  Nikki’s is a place that is most easily reached by driving.  However, there are certainly houses well within walking distance and even more within biking distance.  I’m certain they don’t turn customers away who get there by either of these means.  They aren’t one of those places where you can pull up and park and order through a microphone and they come out on roller skates to serve you.  In fact, they don’t even have a drive through window.  They have a parking lot.  Does having a parking lot qualify a restaurant as a “drive in”?

When I got our food, we drove up to Signal Point without using the GPS.  Pat took 2 wrong turns in spite of me pointing and saying, “turn, turn, turn! TURN!”  I think this is a common marital problem.

When we got to Signal Point, a couple was already at the only picnic table.  We picked a rock along the hillside to sit on while we ate.  Pat, my romantic husband, had spent an inordinate amount of time packing Tisen’s elaborate dinner so Tisen could eat with us.

Tisen is on a special diet.  It consists of all raw foods.  His fur is softer and stays cleaner longer.  His teeth look cleaner.  He has more energy and seems to limp less.  Yet, he still suffers from the allergies that caused us to change his diet in the first place.

He gets a mixture of reconstituted foods along with herbs and supplements that put our own diets to shame.  This is all mixed with organic coconut oil.  Pat prepared it all and had it ready to go for Tisen while we picked at our fried chicken.

Tisen was pretty sure the fried chicken would taste better than his health food.  I’m pretty sure he was right.

As the sun started to set, the moon rose higher in the sky.  I couldn’t resist trying to get a vertical shot with both the river valley and the moon.  Then, I couldn’t decide which one I liked better.  The one with the sun still hitting the foreground, the one with the foreground in shadow, or something in between?  There wasn’t much going on with the sky, but it was still a lovely evening as are most evenings on Signal Mountain, I suspect.

The Last Push

After spending some time cooling in a stream, Tisen and I make the final push home from Edward Point.  We make it to the first place we got lost on the way out.  When we get there, it’s completely obvious that a lower trail completely avoids the downed trees that caused us so much trouble on the way out.  We make it around the whole area with only one lift for Tisen in a spurt of steep rock steps.  I cannot resist looking to see if the trail was obvious from the other side.  It was not.  I have an excuse for at least one of my wrong turns.

I’m almost afraid to stop again.  Tisen is moving well and looking energetic.  I’m moving well now that we’re going uphill, my knee only complaining when we go downhill.

We make it back to the first natural overlook and I know we’re home free.  We take a break there, just to be safe.  Tisen looks at me with an expression on his face that I swear says, “Yay, Mom!  Look at us!  We’re almost back!”  Who knew a bit bull could look like a cheerleader?

A couple pauses to take a few quick shots from the overlook while we gather our energy for the last push.  The trees start rustling, the sun disappears, rain drops start to fall.  I realize I have nothing to cover my camera with and hope that it doesn’t get too wet.

I text Pat and let him know that we have survived and are on our way home.  I had updated him earlier when we were lost–one of the advantages of hiking on Signal Mountain is that you still have a signal.  🙂

When I start packing up Tisen’s water, Tisen pops up like he’s been waiting on me all along.  I smile.  I don’t know if he remembers what the last part of the trail is like, but it involves a lot of jumping up onto high steps and rocks to get back to the manmade overlook at the parking lot.  It’s a lot to ask of a tired dog.  I prepare myself for the possibility of having to lift Tisen many times in the last quarter mile.

Tisen springs up every rock and step like a young pup.  He is clearly excited to be getting closer to home.  He charges ahead when I pause.  When he’s behind me, I have to be careful not to kick him as I step, he’s so close on my heels.

We make it to the park.  We make it up the final hill to the car.  Tisen catapults himself into the back seat and lies there panting.  I rush to change my shoes so I can get us moving.  The breeze is still blowing, cool and slightly damp, although the rain has stopped.  I smile to myself as I put the car in drive:  we finally made it to Edward Point.

Blazing Trails

After allowing Tisen a 20 minute nap at Edward Point, I decide we’d better start working our way down.  With our side-trips on the way up, we’re an hour behind schedule and we’ll be two if it takes as long to get back.

Unfortunately, the sun is now higher, the temperature hotter, and the bugs swarming more energetically.  I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the bugs that get to Tisen, but not more than a 1/4 mile from Edward Point, he finds a shrub, runs into the shade underneath, and starts digging himself a nest in the dirt.  It takes quite a bit of coaxing to get Tisen back out into the sun.

Fortunately, we are back in the shade a little further down the trail.  And the turkey vultures who greeted us on the way up have given up on us dying, disappearing down the river valley.  I took that as a positive sign.

Because I had opted to break in my new hiking boots in anticipation of a back-packing trip the following weekend, my knees were suffering.  My left knee was the first to start screaming.  This has something to do with inflammation.  As my knee starts to swell, it no longer wants to bend.  When I bend it and step downhill, a sharp stabbing pain shoots through the joint.  It makes going downhill excruciating.  I make a mental note to make sure I figure out how I can carry my camera and still use my trekking poles before we set out backpacking next weekend–I imagine my knees won’t hold up to a backpack without trekking poles.  I wish I could wear my fivefinger shoes, but the rocky terrain and the extra weight of a backpack is a bit much for almost-bare feet.

We manage to stay on the right trail on the way back.  I am watching for blazes with the intensity of a pit bull.  Or maybe that’s Tisen?  When we get to the juncture where I went the wrong way on the way up, I look back to see how I got confused.  I realize there is no excuse for missing the main trail.  The blazes are obvious and well-placed.  I don’t know what I was thinking.

We keep on stepping, slower than I’d like, but we’re making more progress than if either my knee or Tisen gives out completely.  I have to lift Tisen over some big rocks in the part of the trail we missed on the way up.  While I’m glad I’m able to lift him, I am simultaneously worried about how much poison ivy he’s run through and how much of it each lift is getting on me.

We make it back to water.  Tisen plows in and lays down.  I watch and wait for him to look cooled and refreshed so we can continue on our way.

Edward Point

As Tisen and I walked what we thought was the last 15 minutes to Edward Point, shadows raced across the forest floor like silent, dark ghosts.  I looked up to discover a half a dozen turkey vultures circling overhead.  Close overhead.  Too close.

Given we were hot, tired, and bleeding from numerous wounds from brambles, it was a little ominous to feel like they were so interested in us.

Fortunately, they soared further away as we approached, giving us a more breathing room.

As we looked around (well, I looked around, I don’t know what Tisen was doing exactly), I realized that the area must have had a fire in recent years.  The trees were charred in place.  The growth was thick and dense, but it was all wild flowers and sun-loving brush.  The bugs loved it.  I couldn’t seem to keep them off of me.  I saw bugs on me that I’d never seen before.  I stopped shooing and started swatting, leaving red hand-prints on my arms.  They went well with the bleeding scratches from the earlier brambles.

There is something disconcerting about hiking from relatively deep forest into bright meadows when a mountain is well below timberline.  You expect to come out into open spaces when hiking in Colorado, but here, it just seems wrong.  I found myself wondering when the forest had burned and whether that was normal here in the Eastern  US.

About 15 minutes after we’d found our way back to the Cumberland Trail, we encountered an overlook that faced the cliff on the other side of the gulch.  Directly across from us was a huge building that absolutely looked wrong.  There is nothing I resent more than when I spend hours making my way to a overlook in the “wilderness” only to discover I’m within a football field (or two) of a major development.  I found myself hoping this was not, in fact, Edward Point.

I googled Edward Point to see if I could tell.  Thankfully, I was able to determine that we were not there yet.  Now, I had a decision to face.  A 72-pound dog who is tired and hot and 45-year-old knees that are equally tired give one pause at moments like these.  Had it been me and only me, there would have been no hesitation–I was going to make it to Edward Point this time no matter what.  However, I’d lifted Tisen enough times on the way up to know I couldn’t carry him back.  I had to consider whether he could make it or not.

I decided to give it another 10 minutes.  I could see where we were along the gulf and it seemed like Edward Point, which overlooks the main river valley, had to be close.  I was so glad we’d stuck it out when we arrived at the overlook.  While Tisen took a nap in the shade, I took as many photos of the view as I could.

Venus Spotting

The Transit of Venus is one of those phenomena you have to get excited about, even though there’s a little voice that says, “it’s a black dot on the sun.”  You must ignore that little voice and get caught in the frenzy surrounding an astronomical event that won’t happen again for 105 years.

For me, the frenzy began when I read an article about it this morning, thanks to a post from a friend who is far better informed than I am.  I thought about trying to find a station on TV that was showing it instead of trying to see it.

Then, the frenzy ended about 10 minutes later when I promptly forgot all about.

After a long day of work, I decided to share Signal Point with my husband as a nice way to relax.  I promised him we wouldn’t hike any further than the 100 yards to the overlook from the parking lot.

I, of course, then packed up my camera, a couple of lenses, and my tripod.  Tisen packed as well.  As soon as he heard the first zipper, he started jamming toys into his mouth.  He managed to get both Tiger and Baby Beaver into his mouth at the same time.

When we arrived at the overlook, a man was already there with a pair of binoculars on a tripod and a camera sitting on the wall.  I was puzzled by his binocular setup–they were positioned about 3 feet above the ground and I couldn’t imagine how he could look through them at that height.  I asked him if he was seeing anything good, assuming he was looking for birds (what else are binoculars for?).

This is when I was reminded of the once-in-a-lifetime (well, twice) event I’d read about only a few hours before.  He used the binoculars to project an image of the sun onto a white card.  That way, we could safely view Venus passing in front of the sun.  Honestly, I was more excited to learn you could view the sun that way than by the black dot in front of the sun.  But it was pretty cool to be able to say we saw it.

I put a neutral density filter that blocks 10 stops of light (that’s a lot of light) and tried to shoot the sun.  However, I was worried about pointing my camera at the sun and, for whatever illogical reason, didn’t want to do so with my 70-200mm lens on it.  I’ve never heard of pointing the sun doing damage to a lens, just the sensor (and the photographer’s eyes), so I don’t know why I was worried about the lens, but shooting with a wide angle zoom only got me to 35mm–not exactly the best focal length for capturing  black dot on the sun.

I did get some interesting sunset shots and, even if we can’t see it, we know Venus is in there somewhere.