What makes one hike more memorable than the next?
Over the course of our time outdoors, there will always be a few you won't ever forget. Perhaps it was because of the profound thoughts that occurred while you were out in nature, or maybe even the lessons learned that simply made a lasting impression. Maybe it's some of both.
Having a guide along for a hike that REALLY knows the outdoors is tantamount to having a guide in a museum telling the details, history, and meaning of what you are observing...except in real time. Combine that knowledge with the special ingredients of some great tales, and you have the recipe for a hike that you will never forget.
Let me give you some examples that follow in the order of the pics above, and see if you don't agree.
It all begins with a great place.
The foothills of The Smoky Mountains fills the bill nicely. (pic 1)
It also begins with a great guide.
Tere Blue has been guiding all over our US of A for 30 years, and knows the woods better than most people know their own backyard.
Today she guides in The Great Smokey Mountains for Blackberry Farm, which is also to say she is considered among the best of the best. If you have the pleasure of using her services for a hike, you will be amply rewarded with stories and information far beyond what you will experience just hiking alone.
A scenic path and unique structures leading to the deeper woods is always a welcome sight when hiking, and lets you know that something special likely lies ahead. (pic 3)
Right about here is where the stories begin.
You might see a crooked tree. Did you know that Native Americans used to force young trees to grow in this shape to eventually point the way to go when they matured? These trail guides won't be here forever, so when you see one, take note and think back to when it had importance and relevance to those that used it. This tree is a prime example of that history still present for us to see today. (pic 4)
Look closer on the same tree.
See those scratch marks? Yes, we DO have BIG CATS in our woods in Tennessee, and like your house cat, they like to scratch things to keep their claws in top shape. In nature, those scratching posts come in much bigger sizes. This tree and the bend in the trunk prove to be just the right for the cat who likes to use it for that purpose. (pic 5)
Coming up on the trail you stop and notice a thick vine. (pic 6)
REALLY thick. Follow it and you notice it wraps up and around a big tree trunk. Look higher...no, really high...and you see waaaaay up in the treetop a thicket of vines massed around the branches. They all stem from the same thick vine starting at your feet. Come back to this spot in the early Summer, and you'll find the birds here are far more prevalent...and LOUDER than any other part of the forest. That will be the sound of happy birds eating one of their favorite meals. GRAPES!!!
Just like us humans, birds and other animals love grapes, too. A grapeseed will grow into a vine in the woods just as easily as it will in a vineyard. And unpruned, will literally take over the trees! When it's harvest time, the birds who know where to find these grapes are the happiest birds in the forest...long before they have turned into wine!
Question: Where does a big bear scratch it's back in the forest? Answer: Wherever it wants to. Then again, sometimes when it finds just the right tree, it will fashion its own.
The tree in this picture is a prime example of just that happening, and the bear that visits this custom made "back-scratcher" on a regular basis is smarter than the average bear. (pic 7)
Speaking of bears, what animal loves honey more?
Answer: No animal.
Here in the forest, and only at this particular altitude grows the sourwood tree. In the Fall, this tree turns a bright yellow. In the Springtime, the blooms on those branches HIGH up in the treetop canopy make some of the finest honey known to man. In fact, it's often called "The Cadillac of Honey". Get yourself a jar and you'll know why. Honestly, you may never go back to honey from flowers again. (pic 8)
At other spots along the trail, you might notice something vaguely familiar, but not quite sure if it's something you would actually eat.
These little jewels are called Turkey Tail Mushrooms: or Trametes Versicolor if you're a botanist. They are edible, but are rather bland to taste with a somewhat nutty quality--and not harvested for the table. Believe it or not, naturopathic physicians have been using them for some time now to help cancer patients boost their immune systems during chemotherapy due to their anti-viral properties. And there you just may have thought there was a fungus among us. (pic 9)
Last but certainly not least if you have young children with you, are all the magic places where the forest people live. (pic 10)
You might call them elves, dwarves, fairies, gnomes, or some other name you grew up with. Rip Van Winkle called them "trouble", but not before bowling a few games of nine-pins with them. Legendary stories like these literally can develop young people's imaginations into a love for the mystery and splendor of the outdoors. I've never passed up the chance to engage children in this manner, and it has been one of life's great rewards. In this picture, you can almost see the door they use to come out at night!
Once you learn to notice the signs as you traverse the paths ahead, you will enjoy your hiking in a way that you'll never regret. And if you are fortunate enough to meet Tere Blue along the way, she will gladly tell you when to "Do this, don't do that"...if you read the signs.
Best of the Best, Kenny Markanich