A Busy, Busy Place!
Made it to the Smokies right before Labor Day. The first night we camped we were the only ones in our loop! We decided to get all the touristy spots out of the way before the crowds showed up, so we did Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome the first day and there weren’t too many people [still not few enough for me!].
I found that a circular polarized filter did wonders to cut through some of the smogginess. Whether I remembered to use it was an entirely different matter!
The Ol’ Dusty Trail’s Calling!
After seeing the sights, we decided to hit the trail. It’s difficult to interpret the trail guides and what they define by ‘moderate’ and ‘strenuous’. Taking faith in the fact that they wrote these guides for hikers, and not the average park visitor, is the best way to go, but as you walk up Clingmans Dome with the rest of the world huffing and puffing in your ear, you start to think that the trail marked ‘strenuous’ is calling your name!
We started our second day late…we don’t have watches and cell phones in the Elkmont Campground are about as useful as a rock [actually less so]. By the time sunlight reached the tent, it was 10 am! I was hoping to get in two smaller trails, but we settled for Rainbow Falls. It went on for quite a while, had beautiful scenery, and some bear sign. The construction workers who were on the road that leads to the trailhead said they’d seen so many bears while working and some other visitors asked if we brought our bear spray. But alas, no bears, just their scat!
Some critters we shared the trail with:
The trail gained 1500 feet in 2.6 miles and was labeled ‘moderate’, which I would agree was fair. It wasn’t too rough of a trail and we only saw 4 other people, I believe. When we finally reached Rainbow Falls we realized that 1, it wasn’t late enough in the afternoon to see the rainbow, and 2, that there wasn’t enough water to make a rainbow!
It was still a lovely place eat our lunch. As we did, I pulled out my cell phone to turn it on and check the time and aparently, that wasn’t a move appreciated by the hornet nest right above us! They started to swarm and we traded our lovely spot for something more on the safe side.
Although the Park is renowned as Salamander Capital of the World [no joke! http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/amphibians.htm], I think this fellow below was a newt. Shucks!
The Roughest of Them All!
We started out on Ramsey Cascades Trail later than we hoped, but pretty sure we’d make the 8 mile round trip with plenty of time to spare. This trail is labeled ‘strenuous’ due to the 2000+ feet of elevation gain in 4 miles, which doesn’t sound all that bad. What they don’t mention is that about 1500′ of that elevation gain is in the last quarter-mile of the trail. Of the ten people we saw on the trail, all of them said it was worth it, but I’m pretty sure no one would turn around at that point anyway!
The trail starts out smooth enough as what seems to be a road! Eventually it shrinks into a one-laner, then goes up and down a couple of times and finally, you get to the boulder-laden trail, the last bit of which nearly requires all four limbs in some spots. We were very glad to see this sight:
Just like Rainbow, there wasn’t much water falling, but it was beautiful none the less. And we were warned at the trailhead that this would be a very wet trail if it rained, so I was glad that amount was falling and no more! These are the tallest falls in the Park.
Again, the polarized filter came in handy and I learned from the previous day’s hike at Rainbow that a tripod was necessary, so I hiked all 8 miles with one strapped to my back and I was very glad I did!
Oh Bother, Why Bother?
If you aren’t a trail-pounder and if you’re like me and don’t love crowds of people with you on your vacation, you’re probably wondering why should you go to the most visited National Park in the country [though I’ve NEVER heard anyone ponder this, but just in case!].
It’s an amazing park that has something for everyone, from long, scenic car drives to nice road-side strolls, wildlife, wildflowers and history. If you’re more adventurous, there’s backcountry camping and strenuous hikes to amazing vistas and waterfalls. And there are tons of car campgrounds to fit anyone’s fancy.
The most alluring aspect of the park is, of course, the topography and the flora and fauna it hides. There is something ethereal about the way that twilight seeps out of the ground and tree trunks as the sun sets, keeping the tops of the trees glowing long after any light can reach the ground. It’s as if the hills have protected this place from passing time, harboring the ancient trees and denizens of forest creatures in deep, vibrant green valleys.