Recent Travels

I’ve been busy with graduation recently, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been going to places. Actually, I’ve traveled a fair bit, both near and far, around the time of my graduation, and here’s just a post to summarize where I’ve been recently.

Kaaterskill Falls in full view. Some adventurous people ventured onto the level at the top of the first tier.
Kaaterskill Falls in full view. Some adventurous people ventured onto the level at the top of the first tier.

Kaaterskill Falls

After the cold, long and harsh winter finally relented its grip on the Northeast, my friends and I started hiking on the weekends again, and the first place we went to is Kaaterskill Falls. Located in the Catskills Region, Kaaterskill Falls is the highest two-tier waterfall in New York State, with a combined drop of 260 feet. It’s a pretty popular location, as there were quite a few fellow hikers already even though it was early in the season. The hike to the falls is pretty easy and the view of the falls is quite rewarding. A good way to start off the hiking season.

High Falls as seen from the bottom. There is a considerable portion on the top that is hidden from view from this angle.
High Falls as seen from the bottom. There is a considerable portion on the top that is hidden from view from this angle.

High Falls Conservation Area

Here is another, more recent hike in Upstate NY, and it features yet another tall waterfall. New York state seem to have a lot of nice waterfalls, and High Falls is located in Claverack, NY. There is a short trail loop in the conservation area that leads to an overlook to the big waterfall, and the bottom of the fall can be accessed by going to a lower trail and walking over some boulders or to take a closed off trail down from the overlook. It’s a pretty easy hike that only took us about an hour, but the stream and waterfalls (there is also a smaller one) make the trek rewarding.

The view of the Smokies at the Newfound Gap
The view of the Smokies at the Newfound Gap

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Some fellow grad students and I traveled to Tennessee once again this year for a conference, and after the conference we spent a day visiting the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains sit on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, and it’s one of the few US National Parks that don’t charge an entrance fee. The park has a mix of mountain views and historical sites.

The Smoky Mountains not a small park, and visiting all of the key locations would take a couple of days. Given our time constraint, we chose to just head to the top attraction on the list, and by that I mean head to the highest point in the Smokies. Even though it was just a day trip, we got a bit more than we bargained for, especially when it came to the weather. To head to the high point, we drop down Newfound Gap Road towards… the Newfound Gap, of course. The Newfound Gap is a mountain low point (gap between two mountains) that is situated on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, and there are some nice scenic views of the Smoky Mountains there. The weather was started as cloudy with some sunny breaks, but as we got closer we saw rain and even a little bit of hail. When we arrived at the Newfound Gap the rain was pretty heavy. We didn’t bring umbrellas and got soaked in the process. However, the rain didn’t last long and cleared out fairly quickly.

The observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome. If you look hard enough you can see myself and a colleague at the top.
The observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome. If you look hard enough you can see myself and a colleague at the top.

From the Newfound Gap, we headed forward off a side road towards Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee and in the national park. At 6,643 feet above sea level at the top, the dome was the highest elevation I’ve physically been to, but I wasn’t bothered by the elevation. Instead, my colleagues and I were more bothered by the cold. Shortly after arriving at the parking lot, it started to snow, and the snow turned into almost blizzard conditions. There is a short trail to the observation tower and the actual high point, but we had to take shelter at the visitor center for about 20 minutes for the snow to pass. We certainly weren’t expecting snow in the middle of May in Tennessee, and it just went to show how unpredictable the weather can be up in the mountains. After the snow went past, we shivered and hiked up to the observation tower. That part of the mountain was covered by cloud/fog so there were no views to be seen, but there were some scenery closer to the parking lot.

Somebody made a cute little snowman after the blizzard at Clingmans Dome
Somebody made a cute little snowman after the blizzard at Clingmans Dome

After experiencing all four seasons of the year in one day, we decided we had enough and drove out of the park. The visit to the Smokies was still pretty enjoyable. The weather could have been better, but it’s more about visiting a new place and taking in some scenery. The thing that struck me about the Smoky Mountains was how green and lush the vegetation was. It just looks a little different than the woods I’m used to seeing in the Northeast. I also conquered another state high point, after Mount Greylock in Massachusetts and Mount Mansfield in Vermont.

Driving through the Smoky Mountains and enjoying the lush green forest.
Driving through the Smoky Mountains and enjoying the lush green forest.

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