American Eagle Foundation: A National Treasure in Our Midst

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There are several things/ people that I would consider ‘national treasures’ in this area. We would probably name the same things. However, I discovered a place doing special work with a special resident that would also qualify as a national treasure. Follow along as Paula and I visited the American Eagle Foundation last week.

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I was very excited about the possibility of this story and had planned it since August so when Paula and arrived at the American Eagle Foundation last week, I knew that it was going to be a great morning. We took Veterans Drive past Dollywood then used the GPS to find our way this location. We had made our appointment with Spencer, Chief Operations Officer for the organization, and arrived promptly at 10:00 a.m. This is the time for tours so plan ahead for a day when you can visit in the morning. Here is a link to the webpage:

https://www.eagles.org

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Paula and I were given a tour of the building that houses raptors, birds of prey, that have been injured and unable to live in the wild for now—or ever. The picture above shows the a long, open ended hallway that can be opened in warm weather or closed during cooler times. You can see the rooms where each bird has individual space and a nice perch. They are able to fly and exercise in the long hallway when the doors are closed during bad weather.

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We got a nice tour inside the main building. The picture above shows a list of names of each bird.

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Please read the highlighted sentence above! We were amazed by the story of this vulture named Cujo. He somehow got separated from the nest and mother when he was young. Children found him, but did not recognize him as a vulture because he was so little so they played with him and spent time with him. Later, he came to live here at the American Eagle Foundation due to the human ‘imprint.’ We learned from Spencer that vultures are quite social and interesting creatures—quite surprising to us.

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There was one bird that we waited to see with great anticipation: Challenger the Eagle.

You may know of Challenger already from TV or may have seen videos on social media due to his flights in stadiums and special events. Go to this link to see a stirring example of his work and background. https://www.facebook.com/ChallengerTheEagle/videos/1657535654512538/

There are even more videos and all will make you feel inspired. https://www.facebook.com/ChallengerTheEagle/videos/1643971809202256/

Here is the Facebook page for the organization. https://www.facebook.com/AmericanEagleFoundation

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It was time to exercise Challenger so we stood still and quiet, waiting in anticipation. Whistles and a treat are used to help with training.

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It was breathtaking to see an American Bald Eagle in flight from such a close proximity.

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Here is a video of the flight.

   https://bit.ly/2J71mFd

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The glove on which the birds land is impressive with all of the wear and tear.

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He is a handsome bird.

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A second tour was going on with a family from Indiana.

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This picture is here because the volunteers often see free flying eagles, hawks, and other raptors flying above the trees just watching and listening to their fellow species living below at the foundation. They just ‘hang out’ a while then go on their way.

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Next, we walked through a gated, protective outdoor area for the birds. I don’t know very much about raptors so the information was fascinating. Spencer explained about food, life spans, habits, and habitats. Most interesting were the personalities of particular birds and how they interact with humans and the volunteers now. We were spellbound.

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My friend Danyelle will want to see the owls. So pretty.

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Our other favorite bird turned out to be a vulture. Yes, I said a vulture. We met Cujo, who was found playing with some children in Sevierville. He was active and animated. We heard him make a noise like a puppy. A little  ‘ruff’ sound. Who knew that vultures could be so social and interesting?

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Our excitement lasted the duration of the tour. We truly enjoyed all the stories and history of the birds and appreciated the efforts of the American Eagle Foundation to preserve them. Their mission is conservation, rehabilitation, and protection. Some day, they hope to reach out to schools and other groups with live streaming lessons and activities.

The American Bald Eagle is iconic in American symbolism and patriotism. The bird is also referenced several times in the Bible so it will elicit deep feelings within when you witness one up close. To see an eagle fly can be a moving experience.

As we drove home, Paula and I were excited and thinking of when we could visit again in the future. We were well impressed with the facility, the birds, and the work of the foundation. In addition, we could not stop talking about seeing the flight of the eagle. It was an unforgettable tour. With the American Eagle Foundation, and Challenger the Eagle, it is clear that we have a two national treasures in our midst.

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With that, we leave you with a last video of Challenger flying high.

A Morning Ride at Cades Cove Stables: Our Favorite Horseback Riding Place in the Smokies

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We are lucky to have a selection of horseback riding stables in this area. When you want to saddle up and ride, there is a stable that is particularly worth the drive to the mountains. We had a wonderful morning ride at Cades Cove Stables. Here is a summary of our trip.

Lisa and I wanted a final, fun activity before work resumed last month so we drove up to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to try the stables located at the entrance. We had tried to ride a week earlier, but a fast moving storm cancelled rides for several hours so we decided to try again a week later. As it turned out, we had the perfect morning and an idyllic ride on our last day of summer vacation.

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We wanted to be in the first group (if possible) so we met at 7:30 and drove through Wears Valley in order to arrive by opening at 9:00 a.m. There are no reservations. First come, first serve. There seemed to be about 30 horses in the stables ready to ride. That was a lot more than I was expecting so they can handle different group sizes.

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Enter the office, sign a waiver, pay, and choose a riding helmet, if you like. I think that they were optional for adults, but we tried them to ‘get the whole experience.’ We like wearing cool hats too.

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You will get a quick lesson from your guide and then saddle up. You can see how easy it is to get up in the saddle with this platform. Lisa’s horse was named Puddin.’

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My horse was very gentle and nice. Her name was Noble. She reminded me of a Palomino.

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Everyone gets a safety check of bridles, straps, and stirrups. They were very thorough.

And away we go!

The trail is about 3 miles so the ride lasts about an hour. It is mainly flat and woodsy.

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About a mile into the ride, the guide will stop and do another quick safety check.

On the way out and back, you get to cross a shallow creek. So relaxing!

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We mainly walked, but there were some sections on the trail that we got to trot. I wasn’t expecting that for a trail ride and really enjoyed it!

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One thing we really appreciated was the fact that our guide stopped at the halfway point and took pictures with everyone’s cameras so we could remember the moment. It is not recommended to use a camera during a ride because it could scare the horse and you need both hands ready–just in case. I took pictures and video for this blog. If I did it again, I would use my clear camera sports bag and just wear it around my neck. It is not easy juggling a camera and riding so the guides will help you with photography. We really needed help with the picture above so it was a nice service. We left a nice tip to show our appreciation for everything.

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At the end of the ride, dismounting is just as easy. You use a platform to get off the horse so all ages can ride.

Dismounting is as easy as pie!

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Our guide, Debbie, was the best. I was impressed that she could ride backwards in the saddle while talking to us. Get a picture at the end of hour so you can remember them and your ride in the mountains.

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There are children’s rides and carriage rides available as well.

Here is a link:      http://www.cadescovestable.com/index.html

In summary, here are the things that we liked the most about this riding stable.

  1. The horses and healthy and well treated. They get every other day ‘off’ in the pasture.
  2. These are knowledgable ‘horse people.’ They know what they are doing. They are friendly too.
  3. The trail is easy so you can relax and enjoy the ride.
  4. The are times that you may trot, if you like.
  5. The waiting area is good. We saw a bear on our first trip.
  6. There is a bathroom next to the office.
  7. The horses are well tempered and gentle.

Here are some good ideas.

  1. Wear old shoes or boots.
  2. Bring a snack and have a picnic in Cades Cove after your ride. Keep it safe from bears in your car.
  3. Wear a sports camera carrier bag around your neck if you want to take photos.
  4. I hate a horsefly and there was one that bedeviled our horses during the ride. Be watchful and gently swat at them if they land near the top of the tail where the horse cannot reach as well.
  5. Maybe wear a hat or a visor.
  6. Crowds are smaller during local rod run weekends and other big events.
  7. Tip your wonderful guide!

 

This was a wonderful way to end our summer vacation. We highly recommend Cades Cove Stables. It is our favorite horseback riding place in the Smoky Mountains!

 

 

My First Trek Up Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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If you live in this area then climbing Mount LeConte is probably on your ‘bucket list.’ In addition, an overnight stay at LeConte Lodge is ‘the dream’ because it is so difficult to get a reservation—not to mention getting there. I am not a hiker, nor outdoorsy; however, the possibility of going up the famous mountain with friends was something that I couldn’t pass up. It was finally time. Here is our story from last month: my first trek up Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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We ascended the mountain via the Alum Cave Bluff trail. Many will be glad to see bathrooms at the beginning of the trail. I know that I was!

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A quick glance showed mountain visitors from several states.

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The Alum Cave Bluff trail starts out gently.

IMG_1127The trail becomes steeper as you approach the cave. Melinda said, “the hike is tough, but what a payoff! The views from Alum Cave take my breath away.”

IMG_3587Mountain ridge lines become visible above Alum Cave.

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You gain amazing views as you proceed up the mountain.

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The path is rough, but you can do it with a good fitness level. I had been working toward this goal at National Fitness Center in Sevierville since the spring. In fact, I highly recommend their high intensity fitness classes and the stair climber to prepare for this vigorous hike.

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Take frequent rest breaks if you need them. We did.

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My good friends, Millie Derrick McFalls and Melinda Derrick, were some of the best companions for this first trek up Mount LeConte. Millie worked at the lodge for several summers and Melinda has made the ascent before so they knew what to pack and what to do.

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The trail presents some exciting moments—and photos!

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Nice drop off! Hang on to the ropes. You have plenty of room, but the ropes increase the safety and feeling of security.

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My climbing companions were (pictured left to right) Lisa Stone, Melinda Derrick, and Millie Derrick McFalls. Lisa Stone has served in the Teacher in the Parks program and the Teacher Ranger (TRP) program. Her knowledge of the mountains, plants, animals, and hiking made it so much more interesting and fun. She also carried an alarm in case we came into contact with wild animals.

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Melinda said that there are about 28 places on the trail with these security ropes.

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When you feel like your legs will not go much farther then you may reach what is called the ‘Hallelujah’ trail. This flat section is the last quarter mile to LeConte Lodge, your final destination.

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Our first contact with the lodge was this privy that any hiker can use. There are more bathrooms for lodge guests as well.

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We had just enough time to check into our cabin before dinner was served in the lodge dining room.

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There is no electricity in the dining hall, but the skylights and windows allow natural light. The dining room is cozy in the cool air at the top of the mountain. Temperatures that June night dropped into the 40’s up on LeConte.

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This will be the best corn bread that you have ever had in your life. In fact, the whole meal will taste amazing!

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Dinner at 6,593 feet will be the best one of the year. Delicious!

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You will need to carb load for all the hiking you will do, even while  on the top of the mountain. These Toll House cookies were as good as they look! Feel free to take another!

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After dinner, Lisa and I trekked to the ‘Clifftops.’ This is the best spot to watch the sunset. It was kind of tricky for me with all the rocks and slick spots, but I was glad that I went there. Does it look like you can reach up and touch the clouds?

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Upon arrival back at our cabin, we could look over the tree line and see the lights from Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Lisa said that she said the big wheel at the Island. The lights extending to the right are from Dolly Parton Parkway. The lights north of that show Highway 66 to the Interstate.

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Some cabins have double sized bunk beds. They may be queen sized! Two people can share each bed of this type.

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Lisa and I got up at 5:30 a.m. in order to see this sunrise from Myrtle Point. It was the most amazing sight of the entire trip! Make sure that you do this. Take flashlights and a walking stick because the path is a little tricky in the rocky areas.

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Even with the clouds, the sunrise will impress you.

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Lisa walking back to the cabin from the sunrise at Myrtle Point. You can see how the paths look like creek beds.

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The ‘office’ has morning coffee so bring the cup from your room for caffeine. See the sign- in book to the right of the coffee? Make sure that you register your name, hometown, and how many times you have made the climb to the lodge. Look at old pictures on the wall and some of the ‘hall of fame’ climbers who have made a name with frequent treks to the top of the mountain.

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This was a good way to wake up and prepare for the descent back down the mountain.

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I love this photo of my friends enjoying a chat and coffee on Mount LeConte.

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Breakfast at the lodge is perfect. This is just half of it. There were biscuits and gravy and more.

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For some new views, Lisa and I chose to descend the mountain via the Boulevard Trail. It is longer than Alum Cave trail, but I wanted to see the wonderful views—and they were stunning.

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We began the descent and took our time.

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The Boulevard trail contained one of my favorite spots (and pictures) on the whole trail.

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We were walking among the clouds during the first part of the hike down LeConte.

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We got caught in a thunderstorm about halfway down the mountain. Make sure that you have a poncho. And now, I can say that I have done part of the AT, the Appalachian Trail.

Truly, I am a novice so check with seasoned hikers before you begin any hike in the Smokies. Thanks to my friends, I was prepared and had a great time. After my legs recovered for a couple of days, I can say that I would consider going back up the mountain next year. After all, I didn’t get to see the llama pack train that goes up the mountain with supplies three times a week. Next year!

There are so many good pictures from this trip. So many good times. The Derrick sisters summarize it well. “Experiencing the walk, the lodge, and time with my sister and friends is priceless. We made memories.” Millie agrees, ” I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”