When I planned our trip from Wisconsin to Florida, I intentionally routed us through Kentucky and Tennessee thinking we would see some great fall colors. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea. Yesterday we drove the 25 miles from Kodak to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It took us 1.25 hours to get into the park.
Traffic in Pigeon Forge was very heavy, and Christmas sure has come early.
We finally made it to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and were lucky to get a parking space as someone was just pulling out. The place was packed. I finally got up to the counter and a nice woman gave me a map and showed me a few places we might like to hike. I told her we had been to the park in July, 2000 and it was crowded then, but nothing compared to now. She informed me that this is their busiest time of the year, with July being the second busiest. I guess I need training in trip planning! Before heading out we watched an interesting and informative movie.
I'd heard of the Trail of Tears and knew it had something to do with Oklahoma. I didn't realize that Cherokee Native Americans were marched by our government from Tennessee to Oklahoma. Many died on the way. Those who hid reestablished themselves and were eventually given a small section of land on the southeast corner of the national park as a reservation. Sometimes, when I learn about the history of our country, there are sure shameful events that occurred.
We drove the 20 miles on Newfound Gap Road to Clingmans Dome. So did a million other people. We sat in stop and go traffic for 30 minutes to get to the parking area for the dome. We were again lucky to snag a parking spot at the end of the lot. For a while I thought we would just have to leave without stopping because the parking lot was a mob scene.
We hiked the half mile trail up to the 45 foot dome tower which was built in 1960. It's a nice paved trail, but its a very steep incline for the entire half mile. The altitude is 6,643 feet at the top, the highest point in Tennessee. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath. We're not used to the quick change in altitude. I forgot to take a picture of the dome, so here's one from the web. The half mile trail is before you get to this point.
The views from the top were majestic. We have been very fortunate to visit many national parks. The beauty at some of the locations is indescribable. Yesterday was another one of those days when my spirit was so moved. I feel so close to God when I witness the amazing nature he created. These experiences are far more spiritual for me than any man made structure provides. I love this life!!
The view below is of the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Part of the Appalachian Trail is down there.
It was certainly worth the trek up to the top of the dome for the breathtaking views.
I don't know what type of trees had these berries, but it was so pretty. The leaves were all gone, and just the berries were left. Gorgeous.
It was sad to see a lot of dead Fraser fir trees, victims of a European insect. Another threat comes from acid precipitation. The average acidity of rain here is 5 to 10 times higher than normal. Pollution is also the cause of the haze even though we were here on a very clear day. You should be able to see 100 miles; but because of the pollution, you can usually only see about 20 miles. Sad!
We stopped at a few pullouts on the way back down to admire the scenery. This was another one of those days where pictures just don't capture the beauty of what we were seeing.
Our next stop was the Laurel Falls Trail. The parking area was totally full, so we parked at another spot a half mile away. We hiked the 1.3 miles to the waterfalls. This area has been suffering from a drought all summer. The waterfall was pretty, but I'm guessing it would have been even better if the water level was higher. Our entire hike here was 4 miles plus the 1 plus mile we did earlier. A good workout.
One more picture of pretty leaves. The sun was shining through and really made the colors pop.
We stopped in Pigeon Forge to visit the largest Christmas store in the south, or so their sign said. Nothing out of the ordinary and rather disappointing, I thought. Dinner was at the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Kevin said the beers he sampled were good. It was Pizza Tuesday, so all pizzas were 50% off. The food and beverages were very good, and the price was right.
Even though the crowds and traffic were the worst we have ever experienced at a national park, I'm still glad we went. The scenery was worth it!! If anyone is planning a fall trip to this area, I would recommend getting a very early start to the day or going late in the afternoon. We left home at 10 am and seemed to be in the worst of the traffic all day.
Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!