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Aug 22

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Grea Smoky National ParkTime to get back to Nature so we headed for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.   This is the largest National Park east of the Mississippi, covering over 5,000,000 acres, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. According to our guide book, it is the most visited park in the United States, with 9 million visitors a year – twice the number of any other national park!Tennessee

Our short drive from Asheville to the Knoxville, Tennessee area would take us through the mountains and we decided to stay on I-40 rather than use some of the smaller roads.  Our Toyota 4Runner is capable of pulling the trailer but struggles a little on steep climbs.  We were not disappointed with the views as we twisted and turned up and down mountains, following the Little Pigeon River.  At one point we checked the altitude and it was over 2,500 ft.

We had chosen a campground in Sevierville for its location about 13 miles from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The campground was not crowded, with neighbors on one side only and the benefit of a shade tree during morning hours.

RV Park

There was plenty of grass between the sites and a stream running down the side.  It was a very welcoming environment and we settled in and planned our schedule.

The next morning we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce Visitors’ Bureau where a Park Ranger, who had grown up in the area, shared some personal stories with us.  He suggested we go to Cades Cove and see some of the homes of the first people to legally settle here, following a treaty with the Indians in 1819 that transferred the land to the State of Tennessee.   We would then go back the next day and drive to Newfound Gap, one of the highest points in the Park at 5,046 feet.

Rafting in the ParkThere is so much to see and do in the Park, you could spend a week or more here!  There’s no entrance fee and we learned this was because when the State of Tennessee gave the road system to the Park, they stipulated that it could not be a toll road.  There are picnic spots, 800 miles of hiking trails, seven campgrounds (none of them with hook-ups and we decided we were not quite ready for “boondocking”, as it’s called!).  Bicycles can be rented for $4-$6 an hour and at certain times a circuit road is closed to vehicular traffic so that cyclists can enjoy their ride safely.  The Park relies on donations and volunteers.  Every year over 3,000 people volunteer for everything from improving hiking trails, to helping stranded motorists to staffing visitor centers.

As soon as we entered the Park we were captivated by the scenery.  According to the government website “Some 100 species of native trees find homes in the Smokies, more than in any other North American national park. Almost 95% of the park is forested, and about 25% of that area is old-growth forest-one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old-growth forest remaining in North America. Over 1,500 additional flowering plant species have been identified in the park.”  And that’s just for a start!

DeerAnimal and birdlife abound. In fact, there are signs all over saying “Watch Out for Bears”!  We got quite excited about the possibility of seeing a Black Bear, the symbol of the Smokies, but learned that – just like in Africa – these animals are active early in the morning and later in the evening.  Since we were not in the Park during those times, we only saw a couple of white tailed deer but that, by no means, diminished our overall enjoyment.

Our drive to Newfound Gap, at an altitude of 5,046 feet, was delayed for a while due to a rock slide the night before.  While the Parks Department was clearing it up we spent some time at the excellent Sugarlands Visitor Center exhibit to learn more about the plant and wildlife of the area.   This “Gap” (otherwise known as a “Pass”) is the lowest drivable pass through the Park and when we reached the top we were greeted by the most amazing view! Appalachian Trail The Appalachian Trail crosses over the Newfound Gap and we chatted with a couple of young men who were walking the trail and had slept the night in tents nearby.  At this altitude the temperature is decidedly cooler – or should we say colder!  We definitely needed a jacket just to stand and enjoy the view so we could imagine how cold it must have been tenting overnight!

The Rockefeller Foundation provided a $5 million donation to help complete land acquisitions and bring about the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this contribution is honored in a Memorial at Newfound Gap.  This was but one of the areas that the Rockefellers funded and donated to the park system so that we can enjoy them today. What a lasting legacy!  Read about Philanthropy  & the National Parks here: National Parks Service

After soaking in the scenery we did the “tourist” thing and had our photo taken at the border between Tennessee and North Carolina!

From here we drove seven miles up to Clingmans Dome (almost the highest point in the Smokies). If you want to get to the top from there, you’re faced with a half mile hike up a steep hiking trail.  By then the weather had changed; it was raining and visibility was zero so we had a good excuse not to attempt it, turned around and started our descent!

Tourist CityNow we go from the Superb to the Ridiculous!  Our journey from the campground to the Park took us through Pigeon Forge – home to Dollyworld!  We certainly don’t want to upset anyone but, frankly, we have never seen such a tacky strip of road in our entire lives … and we’ve traveled quite a bit!  For those familiar with I-Drive in Orlando, Florida, just multiply it by 1000 and you’re getting close!  In fairness, Dollyworld is off on a side road and not part of the trashy atmosphere on each side of the 7 mile stretch of road.  If you’re ever in the area, just follow 441 off I-60 and see what we’re talking about!  Check out the photos we took … words are not necessary!

GatlinburgJust before the entrance to the Smokies is the town of Gatlinburg which has more of the atmosphere of a European mountain town, and much more inviting.  We stopped there for lunch one day and walked around the town for a while.  Bill found a Wedding Chapel and suggested that we renew our vows since this year we celebrate our 25th anniversary!  That’s a great idea, but not in Gatlinburg on a Sunday with none of our friends around!

Time to pack up, hook up, play Country & Western music on our iPod and head for the country music capital of the world … Nashville!

Photos:

Pigeon Forge:  http://goo.gl/3Z8FRd

Great Smokies:  http://goo.gl/i2F8aA

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2 comments

  1. shirley fennell

    I feel like i’m traveling right along with you.look forward to each new posting, say hi to all of the family in michigan

    lv. aunt shirley

  2. Orvil G Henry

    Hi you guys, You two look like you are having a ball , But I don’t know for sure, because I used to ride around with Bill alot, He used drive down sidewalks, Run into snow banks only,too find out it was a cement parking curb covered with snow,(That was fun!!!!) Well you Guys take care and be safe, Well Bill do you think I put you under the Bus enough. lol. Drive safe, see you around Oct, Nov Old friend Hank.

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