Smoky Mountain High

It’s been a while since I’ve visited my home state of North Carolina because the family has tended to gather in Washington, DC, for the Christmas holidays these past several years.  And I had many reasons to look forward to this return visit.

First order of business was a stop at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on my drive from Iowa.  Curious that I’d visited the Rocky Mountain National Park, which is more than halfway across the country, before visiting the park in my home state; however, it seems that we are prone to want to see sites in faraway places rather than those right in our own back yard.

RB and I pulled out of Grinnell on Friday night, reaching Sevierville, Tennessee, on Saturday afternoon.  As usual, my first stop was the National Park Service store, where I got their map, information about the park and a medallion for my hiking stick.

(NOTE: I’d also learned my lesson from previous national park trips.  I filled up the gas tank and picked up some refreshments before entering Smoky National. As it worked out, this was a good decision, for civilization was minimal in the parts I visited with no service stations in sight.)

The park is huge, with a variety of entries and historic and scenic routes through the mountains between Tennessee and North Carolina.  And, as usual, features are offered to all sorts of visitors, from the hiker and biker to the motorist.  

I entered the park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and decided to drive to Cades Grove, advertised as one of the most popular valleys–with excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife in the park.  With the exception of some wild horses, I didn’t see any wildlife along the way, but the scenery was lovely.  The road ran adjacent to a river and led to a looping roadway that held century-plus old cabins and chapels.

While departing via Newfound Gap Road, I got a magnificent view of the sunset.

(As usual, most of the pictures I took are available on my Flickr page.)

By the time I exited the park near Cherokee, North Carolina, and reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was nighttime and the mountain roads were like riding on a roller coaster.

Oh, I didn’t mention that I was scheduled to sing at my home church Sunday morning.  So, the race was on to traverse the last 243 miles home.   I made it as far as Winston-Salem before I had to stop for a short rest break.   I pulled into my mother’s driveway at 6:25 a.m.  Believe it or not, I sounded okay singing at church, too!