San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Monday, August 10, 2009


Even after spending almost two weeks exploring this National Park, now celebrating its 75th Birthday, I was still reluctant to leave. I am not at all surprised Great Smoky Mountains NP is "America's most visited national park." It straddles Tennessee and North Carolina; the Appalachian trail runs through it; the Blue Ridge Parkway begins in it. And its natural wonders are simply magnificent.
The park is 814 square miles of natural beauty and did not originally encompass one single tract of land. It has been cobbled together piece by piece, by philanthropic foundations, the US Government, and local, preservation-minded citizens of the States of Tennessee and North Carolina. It eventually gained national park status in 1934, and improvements were begun by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
In these mountains, a "cove" is a sheltered valley, wide, verdant meadows being its predominant feature. It is in these natural coves that early pioneers built their farms and communities. The Cade's Cove area has been preserved as a pastoral, open-air museum.
While the Western Cascades, Sierras and Rockies, are dramatic, exuberant and youthful, I found the Blue Ridge Mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park ripe, mature and gentle with tranquil, misty forests, undulating roads, bucolic restored early Appalachian settlements, and a new (to me) lexicon to describe its features, such as gaps, coves and balds!
...And Seep
This "seepy" outcropping is at Clingman's Dome.
Seeps are where one can find delicate Saxifrage.
The early 1900's settlement of Cattaloochee is another lovingly preserved "cove" community, off the beaten track on the Eastern side of the park.
...With many places to stop along its cool, energizing creek. OK, some were more relaxed than energized!
A fisheye's view!
When I looked through my lens, I saw broccoli flowerets!
It's these mists that keep these Blue Ridge Mountains ever so green.
Deep Creek Campground's refreshing, but not-so-deep creek!
You could take a few pieces of green tissue paper, crumple them loosely, toss them out on a table, spread them out just a scootch, and you'd have a miniature representation of the park's landscape: luxurious forests and mountains everywhere you look, fertile valleys (coves), gaps and ridges. And rivers, waterfalls, creeps and seeps! The park's wide variety of elevations create a complex topography that creates differing climate zones; rainfall is abundant; the diversity of flora is vast. It is no wonder that Great Smokey Mountains NP is an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.
The Roaring Fork Nature Trail (road) ends in Gatlinburg, TN.
From Newfound Gap, it's a mere 1,920 mile stroll to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. A bit farther to Argentina!!
The Cherokee have been a presence in North Carolina for 11,000 years. In 1821 Sequoyah, a Cherokee genius who was not literate in any language, introduced his "syllabary" to the Cherokee people. Many signs throughout the park are written in the graceful Cherokee alphabet.
These signs were posted at all of the popular pullouts -- the first of its kind I had ever seen! If only I'd known ahead of time .........!
Along the Balsam Mountain Road.
More flowers and a few fungi -- just can't hep m'self! The park was a stunning garden that fulfilled my never ending thirst for wildflower finds!