June 26, 2011

6/20/11 – Great Smoky Mountains NP

The most visited national park in the country is Great Smoky Mountains NP; we added ourselves to the statistics.  We got off to a rather late start—there were thunderstorms the last 2 days where we were staying near Maggie Valley, NC.  We wanted to make sure the weather would be okay, and didn’t head out until after 11:00.
We got on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Soco Gap where it crosses US 19 and drove the 13 miles to the southern terminus of the park near Oconaluftee Visitors Center.  We went through some pretty low tunnels, so it’s a good thing we didn’t have the 5th wheel behind us. 
There were orange Flame Azaleas and Rosebay & Catawba Rhododendrons clinging to the mountainsides.  Most of the trees are hardwoods, not evergreens—it’s bound to be beautiful in the fall! 

We stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.  No movie there, but the ranger told us there was one at the Sugarlands Visitors Center.  He said the drive through the park to the north end of the park in Tennessee would take about an hour.  (Ha!  Not the way we stop everywhere.)  Then we headed out back to the Mountain Farm Museum.  It’s a recreation of a mountain farmstead from the early 1900s.  All the historic buildings were moved here from other locations within the park.  The park was created from logging and farm lands back in the 30’s, and existing buildings were left intact.
 Next stop was Mingus Mill, a gristmill from the 1800’s.  It’s having some renovation work done on it now, but usually the mill actually still grinds corn.  It uses a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel.
We stopped at LOTS of overlooks for pictures of the Smokies.  Between the glare and the haze, I wasn’t sure if any of my pictures would even turn out, but they came out better than I expected.  I loved the layers of mountains receding into the distance.  Certainly are a lot different than the Cascades!
Newfound Gap at 5,046’ is the lowest drivable pass through the park.  (It's a "gap" here; in the west we call them "passes".)  That’s where the park was dedicated in 1940, and where you cross the into Tennessee.  (George was a little distracted...)
There's also a junction of the Appalachian Trail.  We walked down it about a mile, until George’s silent reluctance was screaming in my ears.  It was still muddy in places from the rains and in some places we had to clamber over rocks, but now I can say “I walked a piece of the 2,174-mile-long AT.”

Back in the truck, we headed downhill on the Tennessee side.  When we got to Sugarlands, we watched the movie, wandered around in the museum—lots of info about plants and animals in the park—then turned around and headed back the same way we’d come.  This time at Newfound Gap, we turned off to take the 7-mile drive to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the Smokies at 6,643' AND on the Appalachian Trail.  There’s a steepish paved ½ mile hike up to the rather ugly concrete Observation Tower.  We huffed & puffed our way up (don’t forget, we’ve been in flat country for a couple of months!) and looked at the mountains through the glare of the late afternoon sun.  (On top of Old Smoky...)
I’d checked elevation on the GPS when we parked:  6,343'.   (I've just learned to do that, after months of wishing we had an altimeter, and now I do it a lot!)   It was showing 6,300' when we got back!  Could the parking lot have sunk 43’????  Did the truck slide downhill??  No wonder that stupid GPS doesn’t know where we’re going half the time!

Post a comment.

Post a Comment

Please leave comments here: