Sunday, April 25, 2021

Magic in the Mist

Beautiful layers of the Smoky Mountains

Overlapping layers of misty blue mountains fill the landscape between dense green forests and pastel skies. A persistent haze threatens to blend valleys and ridges as it hovers over the Smoky Mountains, softening rough edges into a dreamy, Money-like ambience.

 Not a gloomy fog, this magical Appalachian mist lends a calming quality to the scene, which drifts back into memory from my first visit years ago. It reaffirms what I learned then: Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an excellent place to come face to face with nature—and leave inspired by the distinctively beautiful and rich natural environment.

Overlooking the gateway town of Gatlinburg.

Called Appalachia’s Front Porch, the park is America’s most visited national park, not surprising considering it’s within a day’s drive of one-third of the country’s population.

Encompassing a scenic trio of mountains, forests, and streams on 800 square miles between Tennessee and North Carolina, the park provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, camping, and exploring with rangers or on your own.

Larry and I sough soothing sounds of abundant waterfalls like Cataract Falls, a brief walk from the Sugarlands Visitors Center. Juney Wank, Tom Branch, and Indian Creek Falls are easily accessible a short drive from Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the southern border of the park, as is Mingo Falls on Big Cover road. We drove towards Townsend to view Meigs Falls and the Sinks, a popular swimming and diving spot. 

Cascades and waterfalls are plentiful in Great Smoky Mountains NP.

Along the roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail we stopped to see new erosion cutting through rock at Place of a Thousand Drips, and we took turns slipping behind the cascading stream of Grotto Falls. Multiple rocky layers define Laurel Falls, one of the most popular in the Smokies, while brilliant yellow fungi growing on fallen trees brightens the narrow trail to Spruce Flats Falls.

Becoming a national park

The unique ecosystem of the park began during the Ice Age.  As temperatures changed, plants and animals were forced to migrate south. The convergence of northern and southern species resulted in and estimated 100,000 different life forms, giving the park diversity second only to the Amazon. It’s the leading park in tree varieties—130 native species. Over 600 new species have been discovered, yet rangers believe they only know a third of what is there.

Historic cabin of an early settler 

In the early 1900s logging companies rapidly cut away the thick primeval forests in the Smoky Mountains. Without trees, topsoil washed away, and the region’s unique biological diversity was in danger of disappearing.

The devastation alarmed local citizens who started a grassroots effort to establish a national park to preserve the unique character and wilderness resources of the region, Authorized in 1925, created in 1934, the park was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

During the 11-mile one-2ay loop through Cade’s Cove, one of the most popular locations in the park, we began to understand how this rural community encouraged connections necessary for farmers isolated in the valley. Aided by a park service booklet, we stopped at settler homes, barns, churches, cemeteries, and a grist mill—all preserved as they were generations ago. Today this historic area provides an important representation of Southern Appalachian mountain culture.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
is a great place for family fun.
You can rent bicycles to pedal the route or even take a hayride along the trail and scout for wild turkeys, deer, and bears.

A different kind of fun nearby

When you’re ready to exchange nature for civilization, there’s plenty to keep you busy, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg and the South’s largest Christmas village and shop in Pigeon Forge. There’s a nightly show—yes, family entertainment—on almost every corner in Pigeon Forge. Don’t miss Dolly’s Dixie Stampede—dinner is a hit because you eat everything with your fingers.

Don't miss this zip line

A day in Dollywood isn’t complete without riding Thund
erhead, the classic wooden roller coaster, or zooming over modern metal loops of Tennessee Tornado. Get more thrills rafting class three and four rapids on the Upper Pigeon River or zipping over forests at Wahoo Zip Lines.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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