Saturday I drove to the southwest corner of the park, to another area designed for motor nature viewing. The area is a big valley, huge meadows surrounded by mountains and forests, with a 10 mile one-way single lane road around the periphery of the meadows. As I got close to the beginning of the loop road, the traffic became an issue, and on entering the loop, it was literally bumper to bumper. Fortunately, there were many pullouts to allow a chance to stop, look, listen, and enjoy. The area has a number of old buildings from settlements in the early 1800's and one settlement has a flour mill and other farm activities on demonstration. I saw black bear, white-tail deer, turkeys, and many song birds. After a couple of hours of rolling through the area, I headed to my next hotel near the entrance to this portion of the park. As I got there, the rain started, and continued much of the night. Next morning (Sunday) I decided that it was likely the wildlife would be out after the rains, and got an early start. Most of the folks who were going to be there were in church in the morning, so only a few of us were there to see the bears, including one mother with cub, the deer and the turkeys. This was a much nicer day for me, and after a couple of hours, when crowds began to show up, I left and headed north, back to Kentucky.
Monday, May 2, 2016
Friday I started fairly early on the "motor nature trail", a single lane, paved, twisty, beautiful road which climbed fairly quickly along a river, to a trailhead for the Grotto waterfalls. I was early enough to find parking easily, and the trail was minimally occupied. The hike was 1.4 miles along a fairly soft forest path, with frequent tree roots threatening to grab one's foot, twist an ankle, etc. I managed to get there without any mishap. The falls comes over a cliff with a recess (cave) behind the falls to allow hikers to go behind the water and continue to the other side, and on up a trail. I spent about an hour just looking, taking photos, and watching as the later hikers began to fill up the area. When it became obvious that there was not enough room for everybody, I hiked back down and continued on around the "motor nature trail" for a total of 11 miles. Along the way there were several old settlements, farms with outbuildings, in the middle of the woods.
Thursday morning I drove on the main road connecting the west side to the east side, to the highest point in the park (actually, the parking lot is about half a mile and 300 feet below the highest point), the parking lot was half full when I arrived, and there were many people heading up to the observation platform at the peak (6600 ft elevation). I observed the phenomenon which led to the name Smoky Mountains, namely mist/fog rolling in and then disappearing and coming back again. The seems to be related to the high humidity and the relatively abrupt changes in elevation. Looks very much like smoke from a campfire. You can see a bit of that in one of the photos.
The road to Gatlinburg runs through Sevierville, then Pigeon Forge (remember Dollywood?), with virtually no way to escape the traffic headed for all the fun and games associated. It took nearly as long to traverse those two little towns as it did to get there from Kentucky. Finally got to Gatlinburg, which is literally trapped between the river and the mountains, with primarily one very long, very heavily traveled main street. The street is lined with fast food, a million "entertainment" venues, and a ton of tourists. Fortunately, my motel was a block off the main drag, and was actually very quiet. I could walk to just about any of the fast food places in minutes. The good news is, that they also had a couple of restaurants which served something else, including local brew. I checked in to the Econolodge, jumped back in the car and headed to the park. I wanted to see my first waterfall, which was about 5 miles up the road, then 1.5 miles along a paved hiking trail. That was my first clue to the crowds I would see over the next several days. The hike was uphill most of the way, but most people were coming down (getting on to dinner time), which made it a bit nicer when I got there. Only a few people there, so I could set up my tripod to take some pics of the falls. I finished that, and was going to move to another location, when I slipped on the slick rocks and fell, banged my camera, but did no serious damage. Lucky. A somewhat younger man offered to help me, but I didn't need it. I got another couple of shots, then headed back down.