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Borrego Springs, CA

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.

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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??

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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.

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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.

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

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                                                                              I looked right…

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…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.

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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

54 comments:

  1. Beautful post.

    Glad you got to hike the A.T!

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  2. I love that picture of the river! Beautiful. Congrats on making it to the A.T. I want to hike that trail one day! Take care then, Levonne

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  3. Wonderful, wonderful photos. I especially liked the self portraits. So cool that you got to fulfill one of your dreams.

    From the cluster blossoms and the shape of the leaves, I would guess those are more related to rhododendrons than azaleas. But whatever they are, they are certainly beautiful.

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  4. We just hated driving through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Such a tourist trap as far as we are concerned. We loved hiking The Trail!

    Nice to see a photo of you! Now I can sleep soundly knowing you REALLY did hike The Trail. Enjoy your stay.

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  5. I think the flower is a rhododendron not an azalea...one of my favorite shrubs...has lots in my old yard on the west coast but none hear on the bald prairie, too darn cold in the winter to survive!
    Enjoy your stay...looks beautiful there.

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  6. Every word, just perfect, Judy. I felt how you felt on that trail. Congrats to you, not just for walking there, but for cherishing the moment.

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  7. enjoy your stay in the Smokey Mountains..and walking on the Appalachian Trail?..how great that must have felt!..savour every moment!

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  8. The Smoky Mtns are my most favorite place in the entire world, and it's where I want my ashes scattered. I backpacked the Trail through the Smokies and it was absolutely stunning! Enjoy. I'm not going to argue with those who say the flower is a rhodie, but it looks like mountain laurel to me. I had both all around me when I lived in NC, but I've almost forgotten the laurel.

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  9. Nice tour of the Smokies and great pictures.

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  10. The Smokies were the first NP we visited when we hit the road last year. Beautiful, but I was flabbergasted at Pigeon Forge...kept saying "I don't believe it" as we passed through. Not my style of place for sure, but a lot of folks must enjoy it?? I look forward to more of your pictures, we were unable to hike any of the trails since we had the dogs with us. We did see bears at Cades Cove, the highlight of my trip there!

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  11. One of my favorite places! You described it so well.
    I agree about Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg! Nothing but tourist traps!

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  12. Glad you had such a great first day at the Smokies. It is a beautiful NP. Also glad you walked on the trail some, it is such a serene area!

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  13. The Smokies has always been one of our favorite places although not in the middle of summer. Years ago there was nothing in Pigeon Forge, amazing how it's changed for the worse.

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  14. Congratulations on scratching an item off you bucket list. Great post.

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  15. What a wonderful day for you.
    I hope this idiot grows up to be a human.

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  16. I really enjoyed reading your blog today and seeing your great pictures. Maybe it was so crowded today because it was Father's Day?

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  17. My family loves the tourist activities in Pigeon F & GB. We rent a cabin for the whole family
    We don't feel its a trap. And we love hiking the trail. Enjoy all. So glad you are there.
    Janet & Jason

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  18. We saw the park in April and the trees were all bare still. Would love to see it this time of year. To find that trail was really cool!!

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  19. It's been way too long since we've been to the Smokies... your post showed and told all the reasons why we need to go again. Love the shot of you on the trail!

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  20. We just love the Smokies and never tire of being here. We usually try to stay in a campground where we can avoid driving through Pigeon Forge and GB to get to the park. The only National Park unit I may love better than the Smokies is the Appalachian Trail and you got to do both on the same day. WOW! The flower is rosebay rhododendron. It blooms white at the lower elevations. Higher on the mountain are the pink ones--Catawba rhododendron. Flame azalea are also in bloom right now. You can spot their bright orange color a mile away. Have fun and enjoy your visit. We're in Townsend. if you get over this way, give us a shout.

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  21. "you have to travel through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to get there."
    Oh yes, I feel your pain. We didn't have to go through Gatlinburg, but the 3-hour, 3-mile drive through PF is still a painful memory from our April trip. Since our trip focused on the Cades Cove area, I am looking forward to seeing the parts we didn't get to through your eyes. It doesn't matter that you just walked a short portion of the AT ... you did it, and that's what counts :-))) Some places just reach out and touch us a bit more than others.

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  22. This looks like a gorgeous spot for hiking. Hiking the trail is small pieces is the best way to do it.

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  23. I'm so pleased you were able to spend some time on the AT. There are dozens of gorgeous trails through the Smokies. I grew up hiking in those mountains. Literally - hiked to Gregory's Bald when I was three and many, many hikes after that til I moved away at 35. My mom kept our tiny hiking boots for years after we had outgrown them! Saw many beautiful things on our hikes. I can still hear song of the wood thrushes in my memory.

    I don't understand the touristy stuff either when there is so much natural beauty around. I remember Pigeon Forge when all that was there was Pigeon Forge Pottery, The Apple Tree Inn and Ogle's motel. I won't go near the place now. Gatlinburg used to be a quiet mountain village. Won't go near there either.

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  24. We will have to call you Grandma Gatewood. I believe she walked the trail in her Ked's tennis shoes. Your timed photo's of yourself are wonderful and the trail looks so incredibly peaceful. I wonder how far Bob could hike...that would sure be a great notch in his belt.

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  25. Love the photo of you on that trail..some great history made there..Den and I have a friend who walked it at age50..and wrote a book about it..Maybe I have told you that..If I can come up with the name I will email you...It is a fascinating read!

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  26. Judy,

    Your challenge is to try to get a photo without all that haze in the mountains. Just kidding. The Smoky Mountains are such a lovely location this time of the year.

    I, too, wonder why those idiots have to defile public property by carving their names into signs, trees and walls?

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  27. I love the joy you expressed at "walking" the App. Trail. Love your timed pictures.

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  28. wonderful post, Judy...so glad you got to experience the Appalachian Trail. Loved the sign for it....good job on taking your own photo, too. We like seeing you in your surroundings! :-)

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  29. Beautiful photos. After reading Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods I really want to see and hike at least a small portion of that trail too. It looks wonderful.

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  30. Are those Rhododendrons? We were there early July one year and they were blooming everywhere. We were told before they started blooming heavily that the place was covered with hummingbirds.

    Love your hike on the Appalachian trail. We did a short hike on it once....it was tricky!

    Your post brought back such fond memories. We just have to get back there. It's absolutely gorgeous in October.

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  31. Nice blog, Judy. Now you'll have to get a t-shirt saying "I hiked the Appalachian Trail"!

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  32. I've always known those bushes as Mountain Laurel. They are in abundance in the area and also at our cabin in the mountains of north central PA.

    Through the years I've walked VERY small portions of the A.T. from Maine to Ga. How I wish I could have been able to walk the entire length. I admire those who do. One time Len and I were walking a part of it and a doe stood watching us for a few minutes before running off. When we got about 1/2 mile up the trail, there she was - like she was waiting for us.

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  33. Way to go Miss Judy! The emotion and excitement you felt comes through in your written word and I felt it as I read. I'm happy that you had such an experience!! When we visited the park, it was in the fall and we only went through the Cades Cove area which was absolutely beautiful! You will enjoy the buildings and churches in that area I think.

    So sorry about PF and G... mini Bransons. Sadly, this places are probably the consolation for families going to the NP... the kids can't be excited enough about the park, so the parents have to remind them about the activities at the towns to get the kids to want to go. The National Park should be enough!!!

    Perhaps you forgot yesterday was Fathers Day? That may explain a large Sunday crowd in the park. Hopefully during the week you can have more of that AT feeling...

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  34. You've given us a neat first look at a place we have yet to make our own first look. You also gave us an incentive for Suzy, because those walks you took look as if she could get involved out there too!

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  35. Your description of Pigeon Forge reminded me of our time in Branson. We saw the same things there. Can't say I understand it, but to each their own. So glad you got to hike part of the AT. I agree.. you deserve a t-shirt!

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  36. I'm glad you were able to hike the A.T. even if it was for a little bit:) Thanks for sharing.

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  37. My vote is for rhododendron. This is the right time of year for them at that elevation. They bloom into July up in the mountains. If you really want to see something take a day trip over to Roan Mountain. And you can do more AT hiking since the trail goes right over the top of the mountain, but you can also drive up to the top.

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  38. Great post Judy. I had an AT map on my wall right next to my bed for years. I hiked pieces of it and read probably every book written by thru hikers dreaming one day I would do that but it seems you either have to do it right out of school when you are young or retire early enough to have the stamina. I think I've missed out on both accounts. Grandma Gatewood was the mother of a good friend of my mother. People thought Granma was nuts. She hiked the trail multiple times in tennis shoes long before anyone thought it was anything but crazy.
    Happy to see you on the trail.

    I wonder if any of the Gat or PF folks actually every come to see the park. I've always thought there must be two different groups of people coming to that area to recreate.

    Beautiful pictures. I loved boondocking in Elkmont campground right on the stream. Heaven!!

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  39. butterbean carpenterJune 18, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    Howdy Judy & Emma,
    Who do we thank for the pics of the day, Judy, since you didn't take them and were in them?? They are very good!! Why do those large logs lie beside the trail and ROT?? Couldn't they have been used for something; even pulpwood??
    Did you ever find out what that tree was with the beautiful blooms on it??
    Where was my Emma??? I always thought you 'had to do' the AT from one end to the other!! Joyce sez she's glad you are getting to see the Smokies as she thinks they are great!! I don't blame you for not enjoying THE DRIVE, through Gatlinsburg and Pigeon Forge.. EVERYONE who has fought that battle swears never to go back there!!! We have a guidebook written by a 'native' of the region that takes all of the back-streets and gets you through, without the traffic; at least that's what it reads like.. It's from 1993!!!

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  40. Sounds like a wonderful time was had by Judy!

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  41. Such a beautiful area! We've been going up there over 15 years...we've been there in April, June, October and December. Although it may seem touristy to some I've enjoyed the shows at Dollywood, the crafts in October and the peaceful campgrounds at River RV Plantation. We make sure to stop at that campground on our way to PA and on the way home. What starts out as one night usually blossoms into 3 which gives us time to eat at the Apple Valley Grill & Restaurant and a few other places. I love Cades Cove and in my younger cancer free days we rode the motorcycle over to the Cherokee Casino. The casino was just another casino but the highlight was the ride thru the mountains on the motorcycle....so peaceful and beautiful. I must say I don't frequent the upside down house or many of the other stores but I do have the occasional Baskin Robbins ice cream cone since ours closed up here. lol I never considered moving from Alabama but if I did I always said it would be to that area of Tennessee because of the beauty and the polite people. I've enjoyed the musical get-togethers in a couple of the parking lots in the evenings...various country bands play for free in the gazebos and many of the locals turn out to buckdance and enjoy the music. Ur pics are beautiful as usual, always enjoy them. I too do not understand the carving of names which does nothing but mar the beauty...some people just have no regard for good things and things that don't belong to just them. But even their ignorance cannot take away from the wonderful Smoky Mountains.

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  42. Don't be too upset by all the wierd toruist attractions in Pidgeon Forge, think of all the people they attract and keep out of Smokey Mountain NP! :c)

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  43. Back a life or two, I spent several weeks around Easter, hiking the AP. We did a lot of hiking around Gatlinberg. Some of my best memories are of coming off the hike early in the morning, getting a shower at the public showers, then going to The Burning Bush Restaurant for trout, (also other meats like pork chops and steaks) eggs, grits, red-eye and white-eye gravy, blueberry muffins, biscuits and lots of fruit. We ate fruit and blueberry muffins while waiting for the entree. Then we staggered out to the car and began the twelve hour drive home to Louisiana. That meal would hold us all day.

    I've always wanted to be able to hike there when the rhododendrons are blooming on the balds. I'll have to get that back on my bucket list.

    And good luck on a clear photo. We only ever saw the hills with haze on them, giving short views and dull pictures.

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  44. Judy,

    You may not be into awards for your blog, but I did give you a Versatile Blogger Award on my site at http://phoenixonceagain.blogspot.com/2012/06/june-19-2012-another-award.html

    Cheers!

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  45. Agreed that many of the tourist trap hoppla is not what most of us go to see in any region. It is there to cater to our grandchildren more then ourselves as they are growing up in a computerized world and need something to catch their attention and say look at this and learn.

    Last year we spent a month with our two 9 year old grandsons. Kathy planned a lot to keep them busy on our way south and back north. If you are wanting something that will open your grands eyes You just drove by them.

    The Titanic is a display of a tragic event that took place even before most of us were born and teaches a lesson of how life can be taken from us.

    The upside down mansion is called Wonder Works. Inside it is schooling made fun. You can experience the feel of a Hurricane, or Earthquake. There are many other things that catch not only the minds of children but adults as well.

    When we left the area Kathy and I could here the boys pointing things out that they had learned at Wonder Works and were now seeing firsthand out in nature. That visit was an eye-opener to the world around us and they never played their I-pods the rest of the trip because they were exploring with their eyes.

    Highly recommended as a teaching tool for all generations.

    It's about time.

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  46. We drove on the AT before we hiked on it. We were searching for the access and it turned out it followed the side road we drove on to take a bridge across a deep ravine. Our first clue was the trash can at the end of the bridge. Then we parked at a senior center so we could hike aways once we realized we'd found it. I'm glad your visit was as memorable.

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  47. If the trail looked like that all the way to Maine where do people set up came for the night?

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  48. It's so good to see your pictures, we were there the end of March and the trees were still bare, we both agreed that we needed to go back during later spring or early summer. We drove up to Clingman Dome and it was snowing up there with thick fog so we were not able to hike up to the dome. That area is so gorgeous.

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  49. I think you mean King kong not godzilla on the wax museum! yea I get your drift I just returned from a trip up there. The traffic has gotten outrageous. I might start going to cherokee,NC or helen,GA now.

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  50. I love the Great Smokey Mountain and I love your blog!

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  51. What wonderful, fabulous memories this brings back of our time there last summer. . .

    Amazing pics. . .just great!

    Janice
    ReadyToGoFullTimeRVing.blogspot.com

    http://readytogofulltimerving.blogspot.com/2011/07/full-time-rv-travelrv-park-pigeon-forge.html

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