Sunday, June 17, 2012

Great Smoky Mountains National Park–first impressions

This National Park has been on my to see list for a long time, so this morning I headed out to get there.  In the Escapees’ park guide, it says it’s an hour away.  Well, it’s a little more than that because you have to travel through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to get there.  That involves about twenty miles of slow travel through tourist heaven.  FOR ME, I just don’t know what sharks, an upside down mansion looking thing, a wax museum with Godzilla clinging to a replica of the Empire State Building on the outside, and the Titanic have to do with the Great Smoky Mountains, but then I’m not Dolly Parton.  I slid past the turn for Dollywood as well.

IMG_8899Eventually I made it to the park.  It was a small feat for me to get into this picture before the timer went off with the present hitch in my get along, but I managed.  I also don’t understand why people have to deface entrance signs like this by carving their names in it. 

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My first stop was the Sugarlands Visitor Center where I spoke with a very nice seasonal ranger.  I explained that I had a couple of weeks to visit the park, and that I could only do limited hiking/walking.  She was very helpful and directed me to this first trail which was very near the visitors center.  For a while it followed this creek, and I’m wondering if these might be wild azaleas blooming.


My destination was Cataract Falls.  I made a note to myself to put my walking stick in my car.  I had to cross the creek a couple of times, and sure wished I had it with me.  This park receives more visitors per year than any other National Park, and is exceeded in visitor numbers only by the Blue Ridge Parkway.  One half of the population of the US lives within a two day travel distance to the Great Smoky Mountains.  I’m thinking that one fourth of the US population was visiting today!  Disappointed smile  Perhaps I should have chosen a day other than Sunday to visit??


It was 1932 when the Newfound Gap road was established, and these are some of the first visitors to drive the road.  I did that same road today, but forgot to wear my high heeled boots and furs.


I stopped at the Morton Overlook to enjoy my picnic lunch.  I tried stopping at the Chimney Tops picnic area, but it was jam packed with people, and not one picnic bench was available.  I guess folks around here come out to the picnic grounds for the day as many had set up screen tents and almost all were grilling out.  A big difference from the picnic areas in Yellowstone.  But what a view I had!  You can certainly understand how the Smokies got their name.

Next up was Clingmans Dome.  It was a seven mile drive up to the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The Dome tops out at 6,643’, and is the third highest summit east of the Mississippi River.  As I drove up, however, the clouds moved in and by the time I reached the top you couldn’t see a thing and it began to rain.  Guess I’ll have to try another day for those scenic views.

On the way back down, I pulled off the road at a spot that turned out to be the highlight of my day.  Long before ‘Bucket Lists’ were popular, I made a list of ‘Things I’d Like to Do’.  On that list was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I know it’s too late for me to do that now, but today I got a little taste.


                                      After going off the beaten path a ways, I came upon this sign.


                                                                              I looked right…


…and I looked left.  It was everything my mind had conjured up over the years.  I walked a ways to the left through the moss covered logs and just imagined making it all the way to Maine.  The serenity was only interrupted by the sweet song of birds.  What a wonderful moment it was for me.


I set the camera on one of those moss covered logs to document that I had actually walked on the Appalachian Trail.  It wasn’t a long hike, but it did bring tears to my eyes.  Funny how that happens the older I get.  It was a perfect moment in time for me that I will never forget.

I’ve only scratched the surface of this wonderful National Park.  Good thing I’ll be in the area for a while.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy