Running the Von Franken Family Food Run: Tulsa runners are pretty awesome

Runners gather for the Von Franken Family Food Run, with the downtown Tulsa skyline in the background.

Runners gather for the Von Franken Family Food Run, with the downtown Tulsa skyline in the background.

Thanksgiving tends to be flooded with turkey trots in runner circles, and I’ve enjoyed running in more than a few of them.

We’ve got a few here in the Tulsa area. But there’s one run in particular that stands out as a little different. There’s no entry fee. No bibs. Not timing chips or clocks. And no medals.

The Von Franken Family Food Run is a 5K run (not a race) that takes place every Thanksgiving Day, starting and ending at the River Parks West Festival Park. There are two main purposes for this one: To collect food for the Salvation Army and pet supplies for area animal shelters, and to go run with a few hundred like-minded people.

It’s pretty simple: Show up with a bag of food or pet supplies, go run a few miles, and eat free pancakes when it’s over.

We filled the truck. Tulsa runners rock.

We filled the truck. Tulsa runners rock.

We had an awesome day to run (40s to 50s and sunny). Several hundred folks showed up, and we filled the Salvation Army’s box truck with food. A pyramid of pet supplies also got stacked up near the parking lot.

Me and a dude named Robert ran and chatted it up for the last couple of miles. We talked about running the previous weekend’s Route 66 Marathon, how we did, and what we might do to get faster. A pretty cool way to spend the morning.

I like the vibe of this one. Lots of people of varying abilities and ages were there. It seemed half the runners brought their dogs (I stopped to give belly rubs to a bunch of them). And plenty of kids. As an untimed event, it didn’t have that crowded rush to break from the pack or people grinding out the miles in pain just to shave off a few seconds for a PR. Nope, just an easy run in the park, and that’s a good thing because my legs are still a little dead from the weekend’s half marathon (more on that in a later post).

Part of the route took us over this cool and fairly new pedestrian path over the Arkansas River. (Clint Green photo)

Part of the route took us over this cool and fairly new pedestrian path over the Arkansas River. (Clint Green photo)

All that is to say I’m proud of the city’s running community. It’s an awesome collection of road warriors, casual runners, dirtbag trail runners and regular working stiffs like me. I’m grateful for these folks, and on a holiday like Thanksgiving, a show of gratitude from so many is pretty cool to see.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. I’m grateful for all of you, as well, for reading stuff I post on this site and sharing your thoughts on all things outdoors, running, fitness and life in general. I hope your holiday today is a good one.

Bob Doucette

A cure for the election flu

election1

I’m not sure how many days this election season has encompassed. Well over a year, I’m sure. I think it officially kicked off when Ted Cruz made his announcement in front of a captive audience at Liberty University’s student chapel service in 2015, and it ended today.

From the lines I’ve seen (and one that I’ve been in), it’s pretty clear that people are engaged. That’s a good thing. But it has come with a lot of baggage.

I’m not sure what your experience has been, but here’s a sampling of mine…

Social media feeds filled with simplistic (and usually false) memes, sketchy links and heated (pointless?) arguments. A bunch of butthurt. A guy telling me my eternal soul was in the balance depending on how I voted.

Fun, huh?

But now it ends. We still have to live with each other, and indeed, with ourselves (got any words you’d like to take back?). Once that ballot is cast, what are you going to do next?

The temptation will be to dance in the end zone (if your candidate wins) or lament the end of the republic (if your side loses).

I voted early last week. Thirty minutes in line and it was done. Not long after, I went here.

electiontrail

It was a short run in the woods before work, maybe 40 minutes. Holy cow, was that the tonic I needed. I mostly had the trails to myself, and the weather was perfect.

So that brings me here: Free elections are wonderful. Way better than dictatorships. And it’s good that people care. But folks get wound up to a fever pitch. I call it the election flu. People get so emotional and self-righteous that they drive themselves sick with anger, worry and despair. It’s like a virus, spreading through mass media on television, radio and the internet. Social media makes it even more contagious. It’s bad enough to where people will actually end friendships over arguments on things like Obamacare and emails.

We all could use a reset, something that will break the fever. Hint: Go outdoors, unplug and move. Science tells us it’s good for us.

So go for a run in a place like this…

electionrun

More of a bike person? Take a long, dirty ride.

electionbike

Maybe  find yourself a view from a high place. Mountain summits can clear your head.

electionmountain

Time in the hills, in the woods or on the saddle can do a lot toward breaking the fever of election flu. So go ahead. Turn off the news, shut down the computer and leave the cellphone behind, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. Get away from the election buzz. I know democracy is important, but so is keeping a balanced and healthy life. Do your part for your country, but then do your part for you.

Bob Doucette

A conservation success story on Colorado’s Mount Shavano that we can build on

Mount Shavano, as seen from Salida, Colo.

Mount Shavano, as seen from Salida, Colo.

Mount Shavano holds a special place for me.

It’s not the prettiest mountain, or the tallest, or the most challenging to climb. But it’s a great choice for folks looking for a good alpine summit hike within sight of Salida, one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns.

Shavano was the second 14er I climbed, way back in 2004, and two weeks after I did my first. My brother and I hiked it in perfect conditions, and for a long time, it remained my favorite of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains.

On Shavano's summit, in 2004.

On Shavano’s summit, in 2004.

Five years later, I climbed it again with my friend Johnny. We’d never done a snow climb before, and Shavano’s Angel Couloir is an excellent place to cut your teeth on that front. It was a long, memorable and amazing day. I’ll probably go back so I can reach the summit of Tabeguache Peak, a shorter, neighboring mountain connected to Shavano by a ridge.

My friend Johnny getting ready to top out on Mount Shavano in 2009. The land here is part of a mining claim.

My friend Johnny getting ready to top out on Mount Shavano in 2009. The land here is part of a mining claim.

Recently, I learned some news. Unknown to a bunch of us until now, Mount Shavano’s summit block is privately owned, a part of an old mining claim. It’s common for parts of the 14ers to have mining claims, and usually that doesn’t present much of a problem. But the upper portions of Shavano’s standard route are in need of some trail work, something the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative – a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to the Colorado high country – had hoped to carry out. They key here is to make a sustainable route as to prevent further damage on the mountain, something the current route does not do.

The U.S. Forest Service wanted to oblige, but couldn’t because of the mining claim.

And all this time, who knew that this pile of rocks was privately owned?

And all this time, who knew that this pile of rocks was privately owned?

So CFI sought to raise $40,500 to buy up the parcels at Shavano’s summit. A successful fundraising campaign would allow CFI do the work needed to give this peak the needed trail upgrade it and its hikers deserve.

Tens of thousands of people hike and climb Colorado’s 14ers every year. Once word got out, people started donating to help the cause. It didn’t take long and the money was raised.

This is one of those great success stories of where conservation efforts meet up with land users to make a difference. But the Shavano story is just one of many. Increasing foot traffic on Colorado’s high peaks causes a good deal of wear and tear on the trails. Social trails are a problem, as they contribute to erosion in the very delicate environment of the alpine. CFI has done tremendous work to solve these problems, creating safe, durable trails that serve hikers while also helping to protect sensitive ecosystems above treeline.

I’d love to go through all of CFI’s success stories, but I’ll point to one in particular.

A very helpful cairn built on the upper standard route of Mount of the Holy Cross, courtesy of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

A very helpful cairn built on the upper standard route of Mount of the Holy Cross, courtesy of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

For many years, hikers coming down from the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross would find the descent confusing. Folks would sometimes get lost. And more than once, an errant hiker would become confused and unable to find their way out of the wilderness area that surrounds the mountain’s standard route. People disappeared and died.

CFI remedied that with an improved route and sizable cairns to direct people toward the proper way down the mountain. Not only did this improve the route, but likely saved lives going forward.

If you’re interested in supporting efforts like these, here’s a link to donate to CFI. They’re a great group that does a tremendous amount of hard work making hikers’ and climbers’ lives easier by building and maintaining solid routes up these popular peaks. They’ve earned our trust, and we definitely owe this organization our thanks. Give it some thought, and by all means, throw a few bucks their way. It’ll be worth it.

Bob Doucette

‘The Walking Dead’ and survival: What the show can teach us about making it in the wild

Could you survive this?

Could you survive this?

I’m a sucker for a good story. One of the stories I follow on TV is “The Walking Dead” series on AMC.

Now don’t worry, there’s not going to be any spoilers here. But I’ve thought long and hard about why this show appeals to me, and to millions of others.

The story lines, the acting, the action — sure, all of that plays a part. But I think the foundation is built on a question: What would I do in that type of world?

If you’re not familiar with the show, it goes something like this: A mysterious disease swamps the world, and there’s no cure. Only a few survive it, and the infected become mindless zombies looking for the flesh of the living on which to feed. Those who survive must contend with a world that went from civilized and technologically advanced to the dark ages in a matter of months. Governments, money, modern conveniences — they’re all gone, leaving behind a brutish, savage and dark world.

So I ask myself, “Could I hack it?”

My take on it will be different than it is for a lot of people, mostly because I look at it from the point of view of someone who spends a decent amount of time outdoors. I’ve tried to learn how to operate in areas beyond the reach of roads, technology and comfort. I might be up on this subject more than most, but consider myself very much the student still. But letting this question percolate brings to mind some basic survival concepts that you, too, would face if thrust into a zombie apocalypse, or something dreadfully similar to it. So here goes…

Worse than zombies.

Worse than zombies.

The big things will scare you, but it’s the little things that will kill you. Fear of a zombie horde will motivate you to be safe, but chances are, your end wouldn’t come by way of a bite from the undead. It would be something much smaller. A blister pops, and without proper medicine, infection sets in. Untreated, sepsis will occur, and that will take you down. Small illnesses like colds or the flu can become crises of lethal proportions absent the comforts and cures of the developed world. Clean water will be harder to find, and given our lack of immunity to waterborne diseases, a gastrointestinal malady will take you out in a matter of days.

The fix: Learn wilderness first aid, and how to filter and sanitize water. These aren’t cure-alls, but the fewer incidental infections in the wild you have, the better your chances of survival. Bummer if you get the flu, though.

Ed Wardle went into the Yukon backcountry and couldn't stop thinking about food.

Ed Wardle went into the Yukon backcountry and couldn’t stop thinking about food.

The thought of food will consume your thoughts and activities as much as anything else. Sure, you’ll scavenge and hoard the non-perishables for awhile, but eventually those supplies will run out. At that point, you’ll have to resort to growing our own food (hard to do with Negan on the prowl, or zombies closing in) or revert to hunting/gathering.

Most of us don’t know how to farm. And farming/gardening can be very seasonal, depending on where you live, meaning that those lean winter months can be tough sledding. So chances are, most of us will have to go paleo for real and become hunter/gatherers.

I watched a show a few years ago called “Alone in the Wild,” where the star of the show planned to spend 90 days in the Yukon wilderness. As the show progressed, I couldn’t help but notice how most of his thoughts dwelled on food. Where to get it. How much he needed. How hungry he was. All the time. How sapped he felt. All the time. He could catch a trout or two, but consume only 400 calories while burning through 2,000 to 3,000 a day. After awhile, he was reduced to mimicking the wildlife around him, possessed by the thought of the next meal, and controlled by the lack of it. That’s your life in “The Walking Dead” world if you survive the initial calamity.

The fix: Learn how to hunt (firearm and archery), trap and fish, and bone up on your edible plants (here are some examples). Couldn’t hurt to pick up some food preservation skills, either, to get you through those lean months.

Negan's one bad dude. In chaotic survival situations, sometimes ordinary folks break bad.

Negan’s one bad dude. In chaotic survival situations, sometimes ordinary folks break bad.

Wildlife can be dangerous, but people more so. People are social animals, but as we know, more of us die at the hands of other people than we do wildlife. And in the middle of an undead dystopia, the worst of us are going to manifest themselves into characters like The Governor, Negan, The Wolves, and those dreadfully hungry residents of Terminus. In the real world, famine, disaster, civil war and other disruptive events that can crash a society have shown that we truly don’t understand how deep people’s bad intentions can become when survival is on the line.

The fix: There is safety in numbers, but trusting others in dark times is risky business. Carefully pick out a small group you can trust, and one that can bolt for safety at a moment’s notice. No point getting caught by warlord’s minions while trapped in a stationary place with lots of defenseless people. And speaking of defense, it’s always a good idea to learn how to defend yourself. Pick up some martial arts. If you’re going to defend yourself with a firearm, learn how to use is and practice regularly. If you’re going to live in the wild, be prepared to fight like there are no rules.

Home is where you can make it. Make it right.

Home is where you can make it. Make it right.

Most of us are helpless without gadgets, gasoline and the power grid. It will hurt if you lose those modern conveniences, but where this really hits you is when you need to find adequate shelter and warmth. And it’s a killer when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B. Think about it: Your house or apartment becomes a really tough place to stay when the power is out. Dead of winter? Freezing cold. Mid-summer? Unliveably hot. And where would you be if you didn’t have the ability to drive a car, hop a bus or take a train?

You could get by for awhile, but as time passes, gasoline will run out, cars will break down and shelter built on the contingency of the power grid working will eventually cease to be viable.

The fix: Home is where you are, and that’s something to remember if you are regularly on the move. Without modern transportation, you’re going to need to condition your body to hike long distances, with all your possessions on your back (don’t forget those 10 essentials). Take up backpacking and make hiking a habit. That, and learning to ride a horse might also be a good idea. As for shelter, sure, you can make do with existing  structures. But you’ll also want to learn how to make your own shelter: Lean-to shelters in warmer months, and in snowy areas, you should know how to make a quinzee. And at the top of this, learn how to start a fire (here are some ideas on how to do it without a match or lighter). Fires are crucial for warmth, cooking, and sterilizing water and medical tools. If you have these skills down, you’re several steps of everyone else wandering around in the apocalypse.

Bob Doucette

Sooner State scenery: My favorite images from Oklahoma

 

Fall views of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Fall views of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve posted some of my favorite photographs from certain areas: The San Juan Range, the Sawatch Range, the Front Range — all from Colorado — and so forth.

But while I grew up in Colorado, I don’t live there. My home state is Oklahoma, a place outside our borders that is not seen as one of those “outdoorsy” states. I realize it will be a hard sell to change minds. We’re more known for prairie vistas, big oil, college football and so on. But if you’re not from here, you’d be surprised at what you’ll find. So here goes, a sampling (there is so much more I haven’t seen or documented) of my favorite scenes from the Sooner State…

These first few are from close to home, Natural Falls State Park.

Natural Falls.

Natural Falls.

Mossy oak.

Mossy oak.

A creek running through Natural Falls State Park.

A creek running through Natural Falls State Park.

On the other side of the state is another state park, Glass Mountains State Park. Far different scenery from a much different ecosystem.

Glass Mountain on a December day.

Glass Mountain on a December day.

Even farther west are the remains of ancient lava fields that now make up the Black Mesa area of the far western Panhandle. Mesas, hoodoos and more.

Hoodoos near Black Mesa State Park.

Hoodoos near Black Mesa State Park.

No tour of Oklahoma’s natural scenery would be complete without  heavy dose of the Wichita Mountains, some of the oldest mountains in the world and a patch of earth known for wildlife, hiking and rock climbing. Unbelievable scenery here.

Looking into the Boulder Field near Elk Mountain.

Looking into the Boulder Field near Elk Mountain.

Bison graze near Sunset Peak.

Bison graze near Sunset Peak.

Weathered cedar atop Sunset Peak.

Weathered cedar atop Sunset Peak.

Treasure Lake seen with Elk Mountain in the background.

Treasure Lake seen with Elk Mountain in the background.

Mount Mitchell, one of the remotest peaks in all of Oklahoma.

Mount Mitchell, one of the remotest peaks in all of Oklahoma.

 

Even within the city limits of Tulsa, there are some great scene of natural beauty. Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness is a hilly, wooded paradise for trail runners and mountain bikers, and there are even some good bouldering crags inside Chandler Park.

Crags in Chandler Park.

Crags in Chandler Park.

So there you have it. Just a sampling. Not pictured are the Kiamichi Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma (some of the most beautiful countryside you’ll see), Little Sahara and the sweeping natural tallgrass prairie that dominates much of the land.

Come on down. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

Bob Doucette

Want to give back? Five things to do to get your hands dirty

Look at all that junk they found!

Look at all that junk they found!

Not too long ago, I was on a Twitter chat with some fellow outdoor enthusiasts. One of the questions asked: In what ways to you give back?

I heard a lot of different responses. Some had talked about taking people with them into the outdoors, so they can learn to appreciate it like they do. But most commonly, the people in that chat – and many others in similar forums over the years – responded by saying they write about the outdoors, share their experiences on social media, or otherwise use their online channels to promote the outdoors, conservation and outdoor culture.

Valuable efforts, to be sure. There is a lot of power in social media, especially when it comes to advocacy. I’ve seen it many times — both locally in my hometown, and on a more national scale. It’s become an important tool for people pushing the message of conservation and overall appreciation of the outdoors.

Similarly, I see that also played out in the blogosphere. Most blogs — including this one — have relatively limited reach, but even the most obscure sites can catch fire if the message is right and the right people see it and share it with others. And those messages can sometimes move mountains.

A number of you out there live this out. Your own social media channels — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and whatnot — are peppered with messages that encourage protection of our natural resources. I love it when I see this, and I hope to see more. Your own blogs and websites are repositories of good information encouraging people to get outdoors, to care for the environment, and support those groups, companies and individuals who do the same.

It’s here, however, that I want to throw the gauntlet. I want you to go deeper.

One of the best things that I’ve come across since moving to Tulsa was getting involved in local efforts to preserve and protect wild lands. I remember going on my first trail cleanup day a few years back, hauling out trash from abused portions of woodlands that are commonly used by local hikers, trail runners and cyclists. It was just a few hours out of the day, a bit of elbow grease and some good times getting to know people who had the same convictions on conservation that I did. Semi-annual cleanup and trail maintenance days are events I look forward to, and we’ve been seeing growing numbers as the years have gone by.

Doin' work.

Doin’ work.

So consider this a challenge. If you’re a social media influencer, a blogger, or whatnot, take your efforts a bit further. Do these things:

1. Find a local conservation group, organization, park service or other entity and see what volunteer opportunities they offer for doing trail work and land restoration in the areas you care about. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition is my local go-to, as it works with the city’s River Parks Authority and other local groups for efforts in and around the city. Another example, this one in Colorado, would be the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. They do great work making sustainable routes up that state’s popular 14,000-foot peaks. Every state and many cities have groups just like these. Go find ’em!

2. Commit to taking part in a volunteer work effort. Even if you have no particular skill in land management labor, don’t let that stop you. Your presence and willingness to work is usually all that’s needed. With more technical stuff (trail building), techniques can be taught.

3. Do your best to promote it through your social media channels and websites — you’d be surprised how many others are looking for similar opportunities, but don’t know where to go or what they can do.

4. On the day or days of the project, get your hands dirty. Pick up trash. Prune foliage from trail paths. Grab a shovel, a wheelbarrow, a saw or a hoe and put your back into it.

5. Lastly, make this a habit. It doesn’t have to be every other week or even monthly. But at least a couple times a year, grab a pair of work gloves, whatever tools you might need, and sacrifice a day of hiking, running, climbing, camping, cycling or whatever and give back via the sweat of your brow.

There are good reasons for doing this, other than being a warm body on a volunteer labor project. This is leading by example. It’s also a learning opportunity, to see what goes into the actual practice of conservation, trail maintenance and land management. And you’ll get a chance to connect with like-minded people — networking can happen over a shovel.

Yes, couch removal counts as land restoration.

Yes, couch removal counts as land restoration.

So there it is. Obviously, this message could go out to just about anybody. But there is a community of people online who are preaching the values of conservation, the worth of outdoor recreation, and the need to better understand human interaction with wild places. My hope is that this community is not only the vanguard of spreading the message, but also the point of the spear — or the spade — when it comes to the work of translating these stated values into action.

How are you giving back? Leave your stories in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Summit view on Clingman's Dome, looking toward Mount LeConte in the distance.

Summit view on Clingman’s Dome, looking toward Mount LeConte in the distance.

About 10 months ago, me and my sister-in-law, Jen, hiked Mount LeConte’s Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For both of us, it was the first time traveling to the Appalachians and eastern Tennessee.

I’ve done the peak-bagging thing in the Rockies for awhile now, as well as chasing crags in my home state. But the Smokies had an impact on me, and I hoped I could come back soon.

I got that chance this last week: A trip to visit family with the wife, and a few days in Gatlinburg.

There was a lot to gain from this, but something struck me as particularly cool. So go with me on this…

Back in November, Jen and I did the full hike of the Alum Cave Trail to LeConte’s summit (elev. 6,594 feet). That’s 11 miles, and nearly 3,000 feet of vertical gain from the trailhead to the top. Other summit hikes on LeConte or the surrounding mountains are even longer. A lot of people do it, but the fact is, many, many more won’t. Or can’t. Eleven miles is a big day of hiking for most folks, and seeing that the park attracts gobs of visitors who aren’t hardcore hikers, it’s important to find ways to enjoy it without having to commit yourself to a major, day-long effort in the hills.

Personally, I like the big days. I dig the challenge, the wildness and the solitude. But many others would love to see what I see without having to blow themselves out physically.

I came up with a couple of alternatives to the traditional big hike when you’re in the Smokies.

ALUM CAVE HIKE

A short bridge at the beginning of the Alum Cave Trail.

A short bridge at the beginning of the Alum Cave Trail.

I had no problem returning to this trail. It’s incredible. And to do it when everything was still green was awesome.

The trick here is finding a couple fun things to see, but save the trouble of committing to a summit hike.

Many people like to hike this trail, and a bunch of them opt for the halfway point, the Alum Cave Bluff. From the trailhead, it’s about 5 miles round trip. What you get is a glimpse of an interesting rock formation you get to hike through (Arch Rock), and at the turnaround, the bluff itself. In between are some scenic vistas overlooking the mountains and forests below.

This is still an effort: In those 5 miles you’re going to pick up 1,100 feet of vertical gain, and you’ll be close to 5,000 feet above sea level when you get to the bluff. But the distance and effort is within most people’s abilities. It will take most folks about three hours to complete, allowing for breaks to snack, take pics, or just enjoy the views. The bluff itself is a nice visual reward, and you’ll get to see a couple different ecosystems the higher you go.

One word of caution: Any time you go hiking in a national park or other public lands, it’s a good idea to take a first-aid kit with you, among other things. Bec rolled her ankle on the way down, so I had to do a quick wrap and tape job on her ankle before continuing. That and a couple of ibuprofen and she was good to hike out the last 2 miles. (Check out the hiking 10 essentials to have in your pack here.)

The trail is an easy-to-follow Class 1 route on a well maintained trail. Improvements to the section leading up to Alum Cave have also been recently added.

Lower on the Alum Cave Trail, it's extremely lush with huge trees, ferns, mosses and other greenery.

Lower on the Alum Cave Trail, it’s extremely lush with huge trees, ferns, mosses and other greenery.

Arch Rock, about 1.2 miles into the hike.

Arch Rock, about 1.2 miles into the hike.

Bright skies on a warm day in the Smokies.

Bright skies on a warm day in the Smokies.

Nice view.

Nice view.

Alum Cave Bluff. One of my favorite scenes.

Alum Cave Bluff. One of my favorite scenes.

CLINGMAN’S DOME

Scenes like this are what give the Smokies their name.

Scenes like this are what give the Smokies their name.

This is another one where it can be as hard as you want it to be. Clingman’s Dome is a big Appalachian peak (elev. 6,644 feet) that marks the highest point in Tennessee. It’s also the high point of the Appalachian Trail, which goes over its summit.

As you might guess, there are a number of lengthy trails to get up there, but the National Park Service also built a road which leads to an overlook very close to the top. There are several pullout sections on the roadside for nature walks or scenic views. The road ends at a large parking lot with a visitor’s center and restrooms.

Best of all, NPS also built a paved walkway that goes about a half mile from the parking lot to the summit of the mountain, where an observation platform gives you sweeping views of the Smokies.

There are a couple of reasons I like this. First, most summit views in the Smokies aren’t views at all — you’re usually surrounded by trees. The platform on Clingman’s Dome rises above all that, giving you some of the best scenery in the entire park.

Second, this is about as accessible as it gets for the general, non-hiking public. The setup gives almost anyone a chance to see what it’s like to stand atop a mountain and view the glory of the Smokies without having to exhaust themselves on a more traditional — and lengthy — Appalachian summit hike. The allure also includes the sweet scents of spruces and cooler temperatures that greet visitors at higher elevations. During last year’s LeConte hike and last week’s travels, I would swear that the woods of Tennessee’s high country smelled a lot like the alpine forests of the Rockies.

Now I know a lot of purists will scoff at the  idea of “micro adventures,” summit roads and paved walkways. But think of it this way: The best way to get people to appreciate the outdoors is to find ways to get more folks immersed in something they’ll remember. Your grandfather, or your mom, or your 6-year-old might not be up for a 14-miler up one of these mountains. But I’ll bet you can coax them up that half-mile walkway and give them the “wow” factor that leaves an impression. Positive outdoor experiences often lead people toward adopting conservationist views. And we need more of that.

Misty mountains.

Misty mountains.

Yowza.

Yowza.

Seen from the observation deck on Clingman's Dome.

Seen from the observation deck on Clingman’s Dome.

Bottom line, there is plenty of challenge for hikers and backpackers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But there are also shorter adventures that less-seasoned folks can enjoy and gain an appreciation for an American treasure.

Bob Doucette