I hadn’t been to the Smoky Mountains since 8th grade as part of the Field Ecology trip. I had the relatively last minute opportunity to join my roommate in a three day weekend trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of TN and NC!
Day 0.5 - (Friday)
Regular work day for us then on the road around 5:45pm. All packed and ready to go. Surprised at the amount of traffic on the roads around 8 or 9pm. Guess we’re not the only ones with this idea. Eek.
Day 1 - (Sat)
Arrive VERY early morning - 3am or so local time. Found a place to park the car and dozed until 5:30am because though we are tired, we want to stalk the sunrises and sunsets.
We drive to Newfoundland Gap Point because it is the first thing we “see” that doesn’t have trees obscuring the dawning sky. A goes back to sleep while I stalk the less than impressive but still pretty sunrise.
After both taking a further nap until a much more reasonable hour, we then decide to head to Clingman’s Dome. Clingman’s Dome is a short but punishing hike because it is fairly vertical. When you get to the top, you get to this structure which I swear looks like it was dropped there by aliens. It is really cool to walk up the slow spiral to the top for 360° views of the Smoky Mountains.
I checked my notes from 8th grade and we did not attempt this hike because it was too cloudy. I was SURE I would’ve remembered that structure clearly. It is so bizarre. Also - that hike. YEESH. At least I had pretty flowers to look at while I caught my breath:
We drove up and down the Newfoundland Gap Road to Cherokee and back again. And watched for impending clouds since it was forecasted to rain during our entire trip.
Mingus Mill is one of two functioning grist mills in the park. This one uses a water-powered turbine which was temporarily diverted in a beautiful runoff next to the mill. One can buy cornmeal and whole wheat flour that has been milled on site which is neat!
On our way back, we managed a quick visit at a farmstead with cool buildings before it started pouring rain.
Just before the rain, we managed to catch these impressive clouds:
Cataloochee Valley is located on the North Caroline side of the park, and is accessed by an extremely narrow road. Thankfully we didn’t encounter too much traffic and caravanned with a few other unknown cars.
Cataloochee was a lovely alley with lots of wide open fields. We were rewarded by the sight of a few groups of elk - some easier to see than others. At one point, one of the bulls was vocalizing quite loudly and chasing the females in his group. Another bull answered from another field. That was really neat. Sunset was sadly a bust as well and we had a long drive to our campsite. Too tired to do anything like setting up a tent (plus we didn’t want to deal with a wet tent), we slept in the car again.
Stay tuned for Days 2 and 3!
Stay tuned for Days 2 and 3!