It was such a warm, sunny day when I got off work that I went out hiking above the dam. I don't think I'd ever been there before, even though it's not far from Clear Creek.
The narrow road that goes down to the trailhead was lined for a good quarter of a mile with parked cars and I was all excited, thinking that I'd found a really good, challenging trail and these were all hardcore hikers. Then I saw the trail, which was the width of a sidewalk and almost perfectly level.
So I decided to set off on a little narrow trail I noticed heading up another hill, up through a field of kudzu vines just starting to come back to life for spring, which meant it was all sunny there because the trees were dead. For about ten minutes I was all alone and happy on my trail, and then it plunged abruptly down a near-cliff. I edged along the narrow, muddy trail with a few hundred feet between my boots and the river far below.
The trail led to a cave entrance, which was cool. I stuck my head in to look at the cavern just inside, which was unfortunately decorated with graffiti and beer bottles, and then kept going since the trail continued. Around the next rock outcrop was another entrance to the same cave, and then I edged around more dripping rocks--and there was another cave mouth WITH A HUGE IRON GATE ACROSS IT.
Plot bunnies were everywhere! What was lurking in that cave that had to be kept in with a gate that HAD NO DOOR? As it happens, there was a sign up, so I know. Gray bats, a federally protected species that are easily disturbed by, say, idiots getting drunk and spraying rude things about people's sisters in their caves.
The trail ended there, so I retraced my steps and discovered a very narrow trail heading straight up to the hilltop. This appealed to me since I wasn't looking forward to slithering back the way I'd come, only it turned out that it wasn't so much a trail as a potential fall. I clambered up it somehow, grabbing at tree trunks and vines and roots and rocks, trying to keep from stepping on any rare plants. I know I'll sound hysterical, but it really is the truth that if I'd fallen at that point, I would have died. I looked down once and saw, a few feet from where my boots were sliding out from under me while I clung to a sapling dogwood, a very pretty patch of wildflowers--trillium, ferns, and a delicate columbine with one flower--and below them, thirty or forty feet of empty air. Then rocks.
Finally I made it to the top of the hill. And then I went back and strolled along that 3.2 mile loop trail with every other person in East Tennessee, or so it seemed. I took the loop backwards from everyone else and I must have passed more than a hundred people, I swear, including old ladies with purses, couples with dogs, a woman with fancy photography equipment, entire extended family groups with backpacks and walking sticks like they were hiking the Alps, and--no lie--two nuns in full habits.
So yeah, that's it for the dam. I'm going back to Clear Creek.