We’re beginning a new kind of adventure as we start to make our way back home to Alaska after visiting family and friends back east.Jim has always wanted to get a 5th wheel RV, and friends in Virginia happened to be selling theirs… so Jim has gotten his wish and we’re now heading across country with the new rig. With a shorter boating season where we live, it makes sense to spend some of the “off season” exploring some of the many amazing places in the western states. But first we have to get west, and we’re learning a lot on this “forced march” pace to get to the other side of the country.
It makes sense to take a more southerly route to avoid bad weather at this time of the year, and we enjoyed the rolling green hills and lingering fall color through southwestern Virginia. We spotted deer, wild turkeys and bald eagles as we made our way into Tennessee, taking a couple of days to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border.The peak fall color had passed, but there was still plenty of pretty leaves at lower elevations. On the recommendation of friends, we headed for Clingman’s Dome – the highest peak in the Park (6643′) and the third highest peak east of the Mississippi. If you’re willing to make the steep 1/2 mile hike to the top you’re rewarded with great views from the observation tower.We crossed the Appalachian Trail near the summit which was fun since we’ve hiked sections of the Trail years ago when we lived in Virginia. Unfortunately the view on this day was marred by smog and smoke from the wildfires in the region; on a clear day you would be able to see 100 miles.The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from a natural haze produced by the vegetation in the area, but now pollution is the major cause of the haze.
After sitting in the truck for so long it felt good to get out and hike, so we explored a different section of the park the following day – Cade’s Cove. This Cherokee hunting area was eventually settled by Europeans in the early 1800s, with churches and homesteads cropping up alongside the valley’s pasture land. One of the rangers suggested a hike to Abrams Falls so we ventured out for some good exercise and fresh air. I miss so much of the beautiful fall color now that we live in an evergreen rainforest, so it was a treat to see the colorful leaves and to hear the crunch of them under our feet.We thoroughly enjoyed the hike, even with all the sharp rocks and the rickety log bridges, though we didn’t linger too long at the waterfall since the days are getting shorter and we wanted to be sure to return with plenty of daylight.As you may know I love bears and Great Smoky Mountains are well known for black bears, though the average size of the bears here is about half the size of the black bears back in Alaska… and they’re tiny compared to our brown bears. We didn’t see any bears but we did see wild turkeys and deer. Spotting wildlife of any kind always makes us happy.We entered the park through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and that was a whole different kind of wild life. It was such a shocking contrast to drive through the middle of the most stereotypical Tourist Trap that is the main street in Gatlinburg in order to get to the National Park. We prefer our wildlife from Mother Nature… not garish and plastic. To each his/her own.