It felt really freeing to step into the woods so many miles away from home, not knowing where the trail would lead and whether or not we would encounter any wildlife along the way. In the past I've never been much of an adventurer, and, at least in my eyes, hiking this (slightly tamed) wilderness area constituted a genuine adventure.
We walked across a little wooden bridge and were on our way.
The beginning of the dirt trail rose gradually and, except for the tripping hazard of tree roots, wasn't too hard to climb. In areas where the angle of the earth was sharper, there were stairs to make the climb easier. Actually, there were quite a few flights of stairs. (Here were stairs, there were stairs, everywhere were stairs, stairs.)
We kept on going, higher and higher. It was certainly beautiful deep in the woods, with velvety moss covering almost every flat surface and a wide variety of plants and flowers, most of which we didn't recognize.
After we'd climbed a long, long way up, we were happy when the trail turned very slightly downward. That's where we saw our first wildlife of the day. (If you can't see it in the photo below, click to enlarge it.)
Okay, so it was only a butterfly, but it was very, very pretty as it flitted among the flowering branches.
Did I mention it was high noon when we started up this trail? And did I mention that the temperature had climbed along with us? All the way to the low 90s?
We kept going. We hadn't seen another tourist since we first stepped onto this trail, and our theory was that the trail was laid out in a big loop on the mountainside, so that the upward climb would be balanced by a downward hike of approximately the same length. Since we were now moving downward, we were feeling hopeful. Hot, but hopeful.
We stopped to rest near a little cabin with a sign hanging from its roof identifying it as an "Indian Herb and Vegetable Garden." While we looked at the garden, we noticed that there was a lot of dust on the trail. And pollen, too. Lots of pollen.
On we went, down, down, down the path and down some stairs and some more stairs. We were getting really tired.
Still, I couldn't help but feel blessed to be alive in such beautiful surroundings. Just look at the glorious way the light filtered through the leaves on this part of the trail:
And look at the way the color of this flower just pops against the green background:
We walked a little farther. Through the trees we caught a glimpse of one of the demonstration stations in the Indian Village, so we thought we were getting close to the end of the trail. That excited us, because we were longing for an icy cold drink by then. And we were starting to get hungry, too.
About then we came upon this gorgeous little pond:
We discovered that there were fish in the pond, our second encounter with native wildlife that day:
The trail ended in a very small loop near the fishpond. It ended, but there was no exit there, at least none that we could find. We stood there for a few moments in disbelief, looking around and finally accepting the fact that we were going to have to retrace our steps over the entire length of the trail to get back to the parking lot.
We began walking again, our faces glum as we climbed up the trail we'd just gone down. My pulse was pounding and I was breathing heavily, taking big gulps of air. We both had sweat dripping from our foreheads, and we almost never do anything that causes us to break a sweat.
About the time we passed the "Indian Herb and Vegetable Garden" for the second time, my sister said, "You know, this is why they find old people dead in the woods. They walk in and they can't walk out."
I said, "Well, I recently wrote on my blog that I wanted my ashes to be scattered near trees."
"Yeah," my sister said, "but I don't think you planned to just drop and decompose on the spot, did you?"
At the highest point on the trail-in-reverse, we met a couple of young, athletic men. They seemed to be doing fine. For a fleeting second I thought of begging them to help us out of there, but we just smiled politely and didn't tell them anything. A little further along we met an older couple. Again we smiled, and I made a comment about the trail being difficult for old knees. They laughed and kept right on going. Too bad for them.
Just past the place where we had met the older couple, we had our third encounter with wildlife. Some kind of bird hopped perkily across the trail. "Screw you, bird," I thought to myself. "I'm not taking any more pictures."
Despite the difficulty of this hike for us "hothouse flowers," I'm glad we did it. My sister and I have had a great deal of fun in the telling and retelling of this tale. Each time we've talked about it, the trail has grown longer and steeper, and the number of bear encounters has grown higher. By now, our story is that we hiked more than thirty miles, during which we had to fight off several black bears, including at least one ferocious mama bear bent on protecting her cubs. It was hellish, but we survived it. We are fearless, hardy mountain women, women who might have been named Danielle Boone and Davina Crockett.
Only you know what really happened.