Exploring the Smokies

When we weren’t hiking, our friends drove us around so we could explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by car.


This is the most-visited national park in the country, and the roads can be pretty crowded. (There were people on the hiking trails, but the trails never felt crowded to me.) Sightings of bears and other wildlife tend to produce bottlenecks with people pulling to the side of the road and getting out of their cars.

Above is a picture of a bunch of MORONS individuals who have gotten out of their cars (WITH THEIR KIDS!) in order to get close to A VERY LARGE BLACK BEAR. Apparently they have not heard the latest scientific research which indicates that large bears can be hazardous to your health. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE???


Anyway. In general the roads were lovely, surrounded with the lime green of new leaves and bursts of white from flowering trees, mostly Dogwoods and Mountain Silverbell.


The park was once home to a number of tiny settlements and isolated farms. Some of the buildings have been preserved in varying states of repair.


As we drove to higher elevations, we noticed many slopes full of dead Fraser Fir (Abes fraseri) and Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). They are victims of the Wooly Adelgid, an insect accidentally imported from Europe. We can only hope that these forests will recover from the devastation. At the lower elevations it didn’t seem as severe.

This photo was taken at Newfound Gap, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet.


Newfound Gap is at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. The park straddles parts of both states.


Bloom periods in the park vary quite a bit depending on elevation. At Newfound Gap we saw early wildflowers, like these Bluets (Houstonia caerulia).


And Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica).


We then drove up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at over 6,600 feet. There’s an observation tower you can hike to, but I was pretty much hiked out at that point.


This is the “dome” part.


This high up there was still snow on the ground.


We then started driving back down. On the way, we found this wild turkey.


This area is called Chimney Tops. The mountain contains vertical holes created by the natural erosion of softer rock deposits found at the summit.

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After three days in the Smokies, our friends Carol and David brought us to stay at their home on the shore of Watts Bar Lake, about 90 minutes from the park. They moved here after retiring from their jobs in the DC/Baltimore area. David had always dreamed of living on a lake, and here he could keep both a small fishing boat and a pontoon.


We went out on the pontoon a couple of times and I have to say it was extremely relaxing, kind of like taking your living room out on the water. We got to look at the shore (most of which is owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority and so has remained undeveloped) and watch for birds. The highlight was a bald eagle flying by with a fish in its talons.


But mostly we just relaxed on the porch overlooking the lake. In between delicious home-cooked meals, we read, gazed at the water, or watch the bluebirds and hummingbirds at the feeders.

For a number of reasons I don’t think I could ever live in Tennessee, but still it was awfully hard to leave.

38 Comments on “Exploring the Smokies”

  1. Wonderful scenery and all so different and new to me, the view from Clingman’s Dome is stunning.
    I could not agree more about people getting out of their cars with children to look at wild animals…we’ve seen so much of that, both in Australia, and also in Africa.

  2. What a wonderful trip. These tree pathogens are a worry. I have just been to Puglia in Italy where millions of olive trees have been wiped out by xyella fastidoisa, a plant bacterium from central America. It seems globilisation is not good for trees.

  3. The world is indeed changing with people and pathogens traveling all over the world. What will this world come to??? It always makes me sad seeing these large swathes of trees dying. It sounds like you had an idyllic vacation with friends.

  4. I was quite taken with the bluets. We have them, too, although our species is different. Being on the fringes of Houston, I was intrigued by the genus name, and wondered how it was chosen. In an old (1900) book, Neltje Blanchan’s Nature’s Garden, I found this:

    “Linnaeus named the flower for Dr. Houston, a young English physician, botanist, and collector, who died in South America in 1733, after an exhausting tramp about the Gulf of Mexico.”

    I’m glad your tramp wasn’t exhausting.

  5. The adelgids have pretty much wiped out hemlocks here in western Virginia. My county had fewer of them to start with, since we only get up to 2000 feet or so, but the devastation is ugly in higher-elevation Bath and Highland counties, where they were the backbone tree of the forests.

    There’s one survivor right in the back yard. In the 1980s when the pestilent creatures arrived, the several hemlocks that my father planted in the 1950s declined rapidly. This one was older and bigger than the others, and lost about a third of its foliage before stabilizing that way; it’s been unchanged for thirty years. I credit an intense bird population: the location of the tree makes it much-visited year-round.

  6. What a beautiful place! And it sounds like such a nice relaxing vacation by the lake. That is so sad to see so many trees dying. I know it’s become such an invasive pest. I can’t believe people would try to get closer to see a bear (and take their kids?!), especially when there could be cubs around.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve never been there, although when I was little we lived in KY not far from the TN border…in fact, it wasn’t until I was in 2nd grade that I realized TN was a state and not a town (I was used to my parents talking about going to TN when we went shopping)! 😀
    I wouldn’t mind living on one of those old farms! What a beautiful place!

  8. That looks a great place to relax and absorb all that beautiful scenery. Your dead fir trees remind me of areas in the Bavarian Forest where we also have a beetle killing off evergreens that have been weakened by drought or strong winds. Some mountainsides are completely bare and the skeletons of the trees are ghostly.

  9. Your trip sounds like a good one. It’s about time you got a little relaxation in!
    We were down there years ago and I still remember all the traffic backed up and heading to the mountains on a beautiful Saturday when we were leaving.
    We lost many hemlocks around here about a decade ago. Now we’re losing ash. The oak skeletons are still standing from the latest gypsy moth explosion. It can really get you down thinking about it.

  10. Before it was popularized as a Christmas tree, Fraser fir was one the second rarest of the firs that are native to North America. The Santa Lucia fir, or bristlecone fir on the coast of Monterey County is the only one that is more rare, although I am not really certain about that.

  11. What a wonderful trip – I’ve not been to the Smokey Mountains & although I’ve heard of them, didn’t realize they were that popular. Looks lovely and tranquil, and spending some time unwinding by the lake (with homecooked meals, no less!) is the perfect conclusion to a couple of days of hiking & exploring.

  12. How sad yo hear of the demise of the trees, here’s to them making a comeback. Can’t believe all those people are attempting to photograph a large bear! Obviously they have no respect for their wellbeing or the bear. What amazing views, fair takes the breath away.xxx

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