Wednesday, May 30
Fresh off our trip to the Indy 500, with just a two-day turn-around, we were off again – for the Firefly Rally in Cades Cove, TN. Haven't heard about the Synchronous Fireflies? Check it out at: www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/fireflies.htm
A bit of history: Over a year ago when we discovered there was a lot of interest in seeing the phenomenal synchronous fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountains, I planned a rally! We were unable to get reservations at Elkmont Campground, ground-zero for the event, but we were all able to gather at Cades Cove Campground for the first week in June, with hopes that the blinking bugs would venture the 25 miles from Elkmont to Cades Cove to visit us. Did we see a light show? Read on!
Our trip down I-75 called for a different strategy with a new little puppy – play and romp stops! Our plucky puppy rode without a sound in his airline crate up on the back seat where he could sneak peeks at Charlie Button in her car seat, and see us in the front seat. Here is is, getting ready to climb in his car bed!
We were set up in our spot in Cades Cove campground by 4:30 – corner site #20. Many of the sites were sporting new cement pads -- no water, electric, sewer or cable hook-up, and no showers. On the + side there were flush toilets!
Dinner was friend chicken (from Kroger) and potato salad (homemade), followed by our first ride around the one-way loop road. After riding in their car seats all day Charlie and Jasper were ready for a slow ride with heads hanging out the window. I had a death-grip on Jasper, and Charlie propped out of Tom’s window. It was a 4-bear, 5-deer tour. During an evening walk, as it got dark, a light rain settled in and evening play-time was inside the Airstream.
Thursday May 31,
Camping, every morning seems to start with a busy morning cycle: walk the dogs, scramble to the bathhouse, feed the dogs, brew some coffee . . . try to find time to sit quietly and drink the coffee. With all of this accomplished we made a quick drive into Townsend to pick up a few items and check our text and emails.
During the course of the day four more of our firefly friends pulled in and set up camp. We also met a wonderful family (who by chance had a 28’ International Serenity in Salsa on order!) who coached us about firefly presence right there in the campground!
Afternoon T-storms swept through the area and steamed things up. At 6:45 six of us loaded up in the truck for a red-neck style ride through the cove – girls (Lee, Sue, Ella/Jasper) in the truck bed on chairs, and boys (Mike, Jeff, Tom/Charlie) in the truck. It proved to be a delightful experience (8 bear, a dozen deer) . . . until it abruptly started to rain! With some quick re-arranging of the truck, the girls climbed in with the boys, and we concluded the last part of the ride.
Back at the campground Tom got a fire going, and we all gathered as a deep dark filled the campground. Unexpectedly, our new friend David showed up, telling us that the fireflies were synchronizing at the end of the campground loop road! Off we went, having to extinguish our flashlights as we approached the viewing area. The immediate scene was of lots of twinkling fireflies in the woods – but what about the synchronization? All of a sudden . . . they all quit blinking and the woods went dark. Then they started winking again! We all stood around in wonder . . . when we talked, we felt the need to whisper! It was a beautiful, and totally unexpected display! I didn't even try for pictures!
The firefly display in Elkmont has not been reported as starting yet. When it does, there will be hundreds of people a night (most having won a lottery to ride in to the viewing area on a trolley) and a hike up a narrow dirt road, lined with hundreds of lawn chairs, and guided by park monitors and volunteers to keep everyone in line. Here, we got to see the full display with just a dozen people! THANK YOU DAVID!
Friday morning – June 1
Showers overnight rinsed the campground for a fresh backdrop to start the morning. Sitting under the awning with rain pouring down, while drinking morning coffee, I would occasionally stick my bare feet under the waterfall off the canopy . . . lovely! Adding to that sensation was the smell of my neighbor cooking bacon outside . . . thanks Randy!
Jasper was content to play the rainy morning away inside the airstream, running up and down from one end to the other, while Charlie watched safely atop the sofa, and I worked on my blog. Tom had completely disappeared!
At 10:00 the five girls left for Townsend for a shopping excursion and an excuse to find cellular service to check text and emails! We all went a little crazy over the Kicking Bird’s Native Garden products – a smorgasbord of healing lotions, salves, soaps, and sprays made by a Native American. There were remedies for teen acne, arthritis, muscle pain, and sleeplessness. One of my soaps was “Female Emotional Balance Soap” and it came with a warning that it had not been determined safe for pregnant women! I BELIEVE!
Tom, Lee and Jeff took an afternoon hike the Anthony Creek trail towards Russell Field. They didn’t reach the top, but enjoyed every minute of the trail following alongside the rushing river. Lou and Larry and Brad and Jane arrived and took our total trailer count to 7!
Our nightly firefly viewing was the same time and location within the campground, but this time there were 14 of us to enjoy the show. It was dark when the fireflies started, and was so meager and so random, that we thought maybe they weren’t going to present. Not to worry – within 10 minutes they were out in full force and strengthening by the minute. This time, many of us took chairs and enjoyed a full-hour, comfortable sit during the show.
We did not get the 80% chance of rain that was supposed to move through the area late afternoon and evening!
Saturday, June 2
Brad and Jane came prepared with a dinner plan for one evening, and as we sat around the fireflies last night we finalized the plans for a Carolina-Style Low Country Shrimp Boil for Sunday night. A morning trip to the IGA resulted in all we needed to carry out the plan.
In the afternoon, Lou and Larry, Chris & Randy, and Tom and I drove to Elkmont to see the Daisy Town village of old cabins – a first for all but Tom and I. I have so many pictures of these cabins in my blog from previous visits that I decided not to take pictures on this trip. But, I did get pictures of the 6 of us down by the river at the Spence Cabin.
Saturday evening was a new approach for finding fireflies! We loaded up in a caravan and started out around the loop – 4 trucks, 14 people, 4 dogs . . . We had received a hot tip that there was a demonstration at the Don Larson Cabin and wanted to check it out. When we arrived at the cabin, a mother bear and two cubs welcomed us. After the little family disappeared into the woods we formed our observation location, and waited for 1 ½ hours for the fireflies to appear. A few “others” showed up and seemed to know about the firefly presence, but it was obvious that this location was a well-guarded secret.
The show was swarming -- very different from that in the campground. The flashing was high up in the forest trees, and filled the fields with a shimmering line of light. There was no synchronizing, though. Larry Woodruff worked diligently behind the camera and came up with this amazing picture.
Fourteen of our group were present for the show -- #15 & #16 snuck off to a dulcimer show! I managed pictures of everyone at one point or another!
Sunday, June 3rd
Everyone went their own way for the day, and gathered back for a 6:00 supper organized by Brad and Jane – a low-country boil! Shrimp, potatoes, sausage, onion, corn, lemons, garlic and spices! When it was done cooking in the large, propane-flame-powered kettle, Brad lifted out the strainer/basket, and dumped the contents in three different piles on the newspaper-covered table. Time to stand around and eat . . . until it all disappeared.
We had time for a fire before heading off to the far end of the campground for our nightly show. This time the synching was more pronounced --- a quick 10 seconds of blinking lights – then 10 seconds of total darkness.
Monday, June 4
A big breakfast started us off on Monday – in Townsend at the Steak & Eggs Restaurant. It had a nice indoor dining area, but we headed straight for the open-air porch by the river! Ordering, meal delivery, and eating took a long time, giving us plenty of opportunity to talk and socialize. On a noise level we scored at least an 8, and sometimes a 10, and if the other guests didn’t enjoy it --- we sure did! From the restaurant we split up, some going for hikes, some going for scenic drives, and some heading back to the campground!
Tom and I cleaned up the campsite, took down the two tent awnings, and otherwise prepared to leave in the morning. At 2:30 we picked up Lou and Larry for an afternoon ride around the loop – 75 degrees, sunny and beautiful. I drove, with Lou riding shotgun, and Tom and Larry were the rednecks in the truck bed. We had a major bear jam, and when we reached his location, where he was grazing out in the field, I was able to pull over. Larry spent 20 minutes working his camera with different timings, settings, and exposures limits! Can’t wait to see those pics!
At the campground everyone was still off and gone on a day of exploration, but as the afternoon moved on, they began trickling back. We had a good evening campfire that lasted up till firefly viewing time – 9:45. We walked back to our favorite campground viewing spot and stood around for 45 minutes watching the show. The fireflies were flashing in fine fashion, and Tom and I enjoyed our last vew for this year.
Tuesday morning we were up and gone by 7:15. Charlie jumped out of the trailer and headed right for the truck, and Jasper happily took over the back seat. He seems to have grown up immensely during his week in the Smoky Mountains: He is an expert at hiking along on a leash; he enjoyed the taste of mountain water right from the stream; he learned to like meeting new people (including little kids); he played quietly in his outdoor puppy pen or running free in the Airstream; he learned to hang his head out the car window; and he developed his puppy play-style – zooming and bouncing and circling and jumping all over!
As usual, I barely have time to finish off this blog entry before we head off again. This time it is caravan trip with two other Airstreams -- towards the Northeast!
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown