I ended up working 21 hours yesterday, which is a record I don't care to break anytime soon. As Chris LeDoux, the great world champion rodeo cowboy and singer, once sang, the crew has been "goin' and blowin,'" even more appropriate with the omnipresent wind the last few days. We have sent lots of guests home happy which is important to us.
I had occasion to be on Alum Cave Bluff Trail late last night and was amazed to see so many salamanders in the path. Of course, the trail was shedding plenty of water, which certainly helps attract salamanders. I saw mostly black salamanders, but also an orange one and the striking Jordan's red-cheeked salamander. They're some of the best neighbors on the mountain.
I also have a correction to make about the location of the tree down on the Trillium Gap Trail I mentioned yesterday. The large downed tree fell only about two miles down from LeConte Lodge near a switchback--not lower down the mountain near Grotto Falls as I originally heard. At any rate, if the weather improves Thursday, the park service trail crew is expecting to hike up and clear the path. They've got a tough job, and we appreciate their help. If so, the llamas will make a rare back-to-back Thursday and Friday pack (though we'll swap out teams to make it less taxing on the llamas, the stars of the 2014 LeConte shirt design).
While the winds kept roaring at us, we didn't end up with too much rain Tuesday, only 0.37 inches. The high temperature was 56 with a low of 47. It's been fairly gray with little precipitation on the mountain Wednesday as of 4 p.m. We were able to see into the valley most of the afternoon, but the clouds have enclosed us lately.
It occurred to me that there were a couple of secrets that might help you enjoy a LeConte sunset more next time you visit. First and foremost, the best place to watch sunset on the mountain is at Cliff Tops, which is accessed via a 0.2-mile trail just off the main staircase of the lodge. You should always carry a good light with you to safely negotiate the rocky path back down from Cliff Tops to the lodge. Also, know that the wind always blows at Cliff Tops at sunset. I've seen numerous people shivering up there in July, so bring a jacket, hat and gloves most of the year.
As you complete about two-thirds of the short trail leading from LeConte Lodge to Cliff Tops, you'll come upon a thinned spot where the adelgids have decimated the mature fir trees. At that spot about 15 minutes or so before sunset, turn around and look at High Top, the actual summit of Mt. LeConte. There should be a shadow line covering most of the mountain at that time, but sometimes the tip of High Top forecasts the primary colors of the sunset that evening. If you're going to get a spectacular sunset, sometimes (not always) the mountain gives you a hint before you get to Cliff Tops.
Also, the second sunset secret is a little more pedestrian. I notice every time I go up for sunset that people leave too early. Unless there is a thick cloud bank on the horizon to the west (which smothers the after colors), the best colors usually occur 15-20 minutes after sunset. As soon as the last pinpoint of sunlight disappears below the horizon, the mass exodus from Cliff Tops back down to the lodge begins. However, that's usually when the best show begins. Dress warmly, carry a dependable light and you'll be able to stay for the "aftershow," usually superior to the main event. It's also nice to watch for the first stars to blink to life above the spine of the Smokies. Most people will be long gone from Cliff Tops, so you'll have the best "rock recliners" to yourself.