Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Great Smoky Mountains, August 26-28

Elkmont Campsite,
this year and last
I love The Great Smoky Mountains National Park!  John and I were there in June 2009 to see the synchronous fireflies.  I was glad to return again to explore some of the other nooks and crannies that I didn't get to see last year.  I started at the far east end of the park at Big Creek, took scenic Foot Hills Parkway, then followed Hwy 32 and Hwy 73 along the northeast edge of the park into Gatlinburg.  What gorgeous roads ... my favorite kind of driving. 

Falls on Laurel Creek
Once in Gatlinburg, I headed for the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, one of my favorite experiences of our '09 trip.  Unfortunately, it was closed for repair.  So, for "old times sake" I went on to Elkmont and stayed at the same campsite that John & I occupied last year.  It was as beautiful in August as it was in June ... but this time without the fireflies.
Wild Turkey at Cades Cove
The next day I drove out to Cades Cove, stopping at a roadside trail labeled "Quiet Walk." It was a beautiful walk, but it wasn't quiet at all being just off the main road. I also checked out the falls on Laurel Creek. The Cades Cove Loop road is one-way. It's known as a great place to see wildlife. And, sure enough, I saw some bucks, wild turkeys, and several black bears -- a mature adult and a young adult. I decided to take the Rich Mountain Road north, out of the park. It's a park-maintained dirt road, with lots of twists and turns, and I was told another good place to spot bears. To reach that road, I again needed to go about 1/3 around the Cades Cove Loop.
Bear Cub running to my car

About half way to my turn off I saw a bear cub.  No mama bear was in sight.  I had all my windows rolled down and was enjoying a mid-morning snack of crackers and juice.  Well, I think that little cub thought he'd like some too!  At one point I thought he was going to try to climb into the car with me!  He got so close to me on a bank that I could have easily reached out and touched him.  I rolled my windows up, but he kept following for about 200 yards ... and I think he would have kept tagging along except a couple got out of their car to take pictures and scared him away.   My travel down Rich Mountain Road was beautiful, but I didn't see any more wildlife. 

Bear Cub followed me 200 yrds

The proof from
to show that I conqured The Dragon!

 On the advice of a ranger, I made my way further west, outside of the park, to another scenic drive -- The Cherohala Skyway -- which was spectacular. To get there, I took two more great drives. One was the scenic Foothills Parkway on the west side of the park and Hwy 129, the Tail of the Dragon. I didn't know that Hwy 129 was a famous road. I've since read that the portion I drove between Tabs Cat Bridge and Deals Gap is 11 miles long and contains 318 curves. It's said to be especially enjoyed by sports car drivers and motorcyclists. I drive a Prius, and I found it fun too! I guess to prove that you've actually been on The Dragon, photographers are placed at a few of the curves with big banners advertising the web site where you can purchase your picture. An unexpected treat.

Rain Storm from Cherohala Skyway
After driving back from the Cherohala Skyway, I overnighted just north of the park. The next morning I stopped at the Little Greenbrier School on my way to the main Newfound Gap Road. This drive takes me down the middle of the park from Tennessee to North Carolina. I was on my way to take one more scenic drive, the one-way Balsam Mountain Loop. This park-maintained dirt road provided a reverent, church-like drive. I saw no wildlife, but these deep woods felt so surreal ... misty, wisps of clouds, and a few shafts of sunlight every now and again. How fortunate I am.

Little Briar School House

Inside Little Briar School House



A view from Balsam Mountain Loop

Rain runoff on Balsam Mountain Loop
originally posted 9/28/10

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please make a comment. I'd love to hear from you ...