Deborah at Around Dusty Roads has been posting about her vacation in Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. She is fully enjoying the area, riding the train into the park and taking trips to Cades Cove and other locations. Her prolonged visit dredged up memories of my quick drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over 15 years ago. That was before I had a digital camera, so I set about sorting through boxes and closets to find the actual photos I took on that trip.
I found my photos but not my journal from that trip, but I can still recreate my driving plans that took me through that beautiful national park. Back then (1998), I had been on a long driving trip that took me from California out to Maryland to visit a dear friend. From there, I headed south to North Carolina with a plan to cut west to pick up I-40 en route home. Along that route, I would have been able to take a quick drive through the Smoky Mountains—and that is just what I did! I expect I drove the Newfound Gap Road through the park that day in the early summer. This road travels roughly 35 miles across those impressive mountains, giving glimpses into the valleys and passes of the area.
Although short, it was glorious drive. Wildflowers stood out against the verdant backdrop. I only wish now that back then I had taken the time to enjoy the area as Deborah is doing now. Maybe I will get back there someday.
SMOKY MOUNTIANS: A FEW FACTS & A LITTLE HISTORY
Although not as massive and impressive as the Rockies or Sierras, the Smoky Mountains are wondrous. They are the master chain in the Appalachian Mountains and feature 16 peaks over 6,000 feet in elevation. This steep rugged land represents the highest mountains east of the Mississippi. A full 90% of the area is characterized by slopes that are 10% or greater. Although a few peaks are exposed stone—labeled “bald”—most of the landscape is covered with lush vegetation and forests. This lush landscape covers more than 521,000 acres and is almost equally split between North Carolina and Tennessee. Across this expanse there are 384 miles of road, both paved and unpaved, as well as 800 miles of hiking trails.
Historically, the area was populated by the Cherokee as far back as the year 1000. But in the late 1700’s new settlers to the area starting displacing the Cherokee. The Cherokee are said to have ceded their claim to the area in 1819, but that is a complicated and complex time in our country’s history. Over the next 100 years about 6000 small farms were evident in those mountains, mostly owned by Scottish-Irish immigrants. From 1900 to 1920, lumber companies started moving into area. Fortunately, about that same time, W. B. Davis and his wife as well as Horace Kephart and others were already promoting the potential of naming the Smoky Mountains a national park.
In 1926, a bill was passed allowing the eventual establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unlike western parks, the lands in the Smoky Mountains had to be purchased by private citizens and donated to the federal government to make them available for a national park designation. It was a long process. In 1931, the last tract was secured from the Champion Lumber Company. The Great Smoky National Park was officially authorized in 1934. In September 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the “the mountains, streams, and forests” of the Great Smokies, naming them a sanctuary for the whole world to enjoy.
From the very beginning, the park was a great success. In 1941, this new park set a record: over one million people visited the park that year! Since then, each year, it has remained the most visited park within the national park system. In 2010, there were 9.4 million recreational visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The second most visited national park in 2010 was the Grand Canyon with 4.4 million visitors.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the smoky haze that permeates the park and mesmerizes visitors. This characteristic has been a constant in the mountains from its very beginnings. The Cherokee called the mountains Shaconage, which means “the place of the blue smoke.” This smoky appearance is actually caused by water vapor emitted by the thick forests in combination with the terpenes emitted by the conifers within the forests. Terpenes and moisture react with low level ozone molecules causing tiny particles that diffuse blue light into the haze typical of the area. I would prefer to think that ancient spirits protecting the area had something to do with this eerie phenomenon!
If you get the chance, go visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
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SOME QUOTES THAT BRING THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS TO MIND
“The Smoky Mountains are a rare jewel. Why not have a place where you can still see the stars? There is a value to keeping things primitive.” James Dawson
“The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” Theodore Roosevelt
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir
“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.” Rumi
“Going to the woods is going home.” John Muir
“Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom the lofty mountain-tops are within reach,” John Muir
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed … We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.” Wallace Stegner
“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” Aldo Leopold
“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.” Jimmy Carter
“We had no choice. Sadness was a dangerous as panthers and bears. The wilderness needs your whole attention.” Laura Ingalls Wilder
“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” Nancy Wynne Newhall
“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, than can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Theodor Roosevelt
“I love nature, I love the landscape, because it is so sincere. It never cheats me. It never jests. It is cheerfully, musically earnest. I lie and relie on the earth.” Henry David Thoreau
“Man has created some lovely dwellings. . . some soul-serving literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But he has not, in his cities, created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wild flower.” Harvey Bloome, Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies