Right after earning my brand spanking new driver license at the age of 15 and a half, I celebrated by driving for a long five hours through the nicest country – all the way from my Kentucky hometown, Louisville, to the Great Smoky Mountains right on the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. Right up there at the highest point, Clingsman Dome (6,643 feet), my friend and I backpacked and camped out for several days. It is the highest mountain of the entire 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail and the third highest east of Mississippi. Imagine my heightened excitement being in the deep wilderness on the top of that old mountain as a teen!
Forty years later, I was so much looking forward to it once again. Alas, to my dismay and shock, the drive is obviously not the same, especially the last twenty mile or so before the west-end of the entrance to the mountains. Gone were those wet lushly green forests, now flattened and filled with a near-nauseating, heavy-traffic drive through some of the most extreme tourism business sector I’ve seen in a while. Included there were stacks of blinding flashing billboards, massive gigantic factory stores, and especially these massive theme parks – along the stretch. There were a Titanic ship, promising that you can touch its iceberg (Ha!), a “King Kong” clinging on a skyscraper tip, “Dollywood” ads everywhere. It felt endless! I can just see Henry J. Potter’s smirk of appreciation. At last, we entered the National Park, the cool stillness of the blue misty air. The Great Smoky Mountains have not changed. Whew!
The misty mountains are part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was established in 1934. This park we were told proudly while we were in Tennessee is the most-visited national park in the United States.
As we drove into the National Park, the view of the Smokies was just as you might imagine – the smoky bluish haze sitting serenely just above the mountain tops. The name “Smoky” comes from this natural fog, giving the impression of large smoke plumes from a distance. This fog is most often seen in the morning and after rainfall. Mainly, it is formed because warm humid air from the Gulf of Mexico cools quickly as it reaches the higher elevations of Southern Appalachia.
This is a lovely area of natural stunning beauty and a hiking paradise. We spent only two days relaxing at the Smokemont Campground where we hiked 8.2 miles along side pristine mountain creeks and rivers, and picturesque mountain ranges, with pristine mountain streams and rivers. Ah, I felt the serenity floating within me, just like when I backpacked here as a teen. <smile>