The trail bottomed out, ending abruptly at a small stream that wound through the clearing. On the other side of the stream, a slowly disintegrating Smaug terrorized the lake town of Dale, its plywood ramparts collapsing or collapsed.
Off to the right, however, was true desolation. A massive mudslide had laid waste to the hillside, erasing all traces of the towering forest surrounding it. Where travelers would have once encountered a stand of redwoods wholly enveloped in ferns, only a lumpy, cracked crust of mud remained. It was as if the Smooze had been unleashed on Hobbiton (for those of you unfamiliar with My Little Pony films, think of a mud tsunami), barely fended off by the crumbling concrete dragon.
The mudslide was rimmed on one side by a cascade of boulders, creating a series of small pools and waterfalls as the stream struggled its way through the rocky chaos. There is something enthralling about moving water; it is a kind of siren song, especially for a river-person like Star. A succession of waterfalls? Inescapable. We started climbing…
An hour later, we had still not reached the top of the boulder slide. Several times we had been waylaid by clusters of spiders, their tangled webs barring any route upward and forward. In true Hobbit fashion, Star spotted a particularly dagger-ly (dagger-ish? dagger-esque?) stick, promptly named it “Sting”, and vanquished the arachnid menace. Sadly, any further burgling was cut short by the deepening shadows which served as a reminder that our trip was nearing its end.
We quietly returned to the trail and traced it back to car, stopping only to console Bard, the legendary archer, who stood with arrow forever knocked but never flying. It was a fitting denouement to our journey—like every great story, Hobbiton USA had conjured feelings and memories that I just didn’t want to let go of.