The plant life was diverse and interesting. Among the trout lilies, bloodroot, firepink, dogwoods, anemones and squaw root was one of my favorites, morel mushrooms. When I first saw the tasty little gems poking out of the dead oak leaves, I dropped to my knees and in archeologist-like fashion, extricated the precious fungus and looked about for more. We gathered about four pounds of the choice mushrooms and later that evening I made a tomato morel stew that I will never forget. That evening, after a hefty haebar, Mark and I listened as an owl swooped down and snagged a nearby mouse. The owl held the still living meal in its talons just above us, and we listened to the mouse scream for over five minutes until the bird finally took its life. What a rare glimpse into grim reality of life in the food chain.
Spring had come in a big way as we walked our way out of the Smokies. Mark and I were still buzzing from a most memorable hike through the park as we excitedly pressed on to Hot Springs. In the lower elevations, the explosion of green growth was enough to hide the sun and the wildflowers were in full bloom. The air was sweet with all the new growth scrubbing the warm breezes. The weather was near perfect for a while and we enjoyed some fine walking. We ambled up and over Snowbird Mountain, past a huge FAA radar thingy-mabob and into another bear santuary. The southern forests were delivering some gourmet backpacking and it seemed each day we hiked on the Appalachian Trail was better than the day before.
The Trail town of Hot Springs was within striking distance and we eagerly anticipated our maildrop and ice cold beer. We meandered through the emerging springtime to a great place known as Max Patch. This bald hill rises out of the woods as a golf course-like expanse of the greenest grass with an exceptional 360° view. It was definitely a two haebar location. After an almost sleepless night at Walnut Mountain Shelter with its impossibly angled sleeping shelf then the easy 12 mile hike the next day, we made Hot Springs in time for dinner. Mark and I stayed at a motel, hung out with Featherback and the Traveller, drank beers, gorged on snack food and enjoyed the civilized life as a tourist. We poured money into the small town economy like we were millionaires on a spending spree.
Hot Springs was named for the hot spring formation in the town. Decades before, there was a resort spa at the location that was used as a prison camp during World War I. After a number of fires, all that remained was a run down building surrounding the “baths” where the hot spring water oozes forth. Mark and I never got to see them, but on a return expedition in ’89 I got a chance to immerse myself in what was truly a pleasant experience. The property seemed to me to be a goldmine (especially since premium water was all the rage), but the real estate was mired so deep in litigation it was undevelopable. I liked everything about Hot Springs except the “seafood” I ordered at the local restaurant.
…continue the adventure, read: Hiking Along the Borderline [link]