Since outdoor adventure #2 was a bust, I quickly came up with plan B...well it was more like I'll bump up outdoor adventure #3. Next stop...Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From Nantahala Outdoor Center, we backtracked on the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway then we turned off onto US-441 North towards Cherokee. We entered the national park at its southern entrance via US-441 a.k.a Newfound Gap Road. Before driving through the park, we stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center for a restroom break and to get area maps from the park rangers on duty.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park consists of 521,086 acres of protected parkland found along the eastern border of Tennessee and the western border of North Carolina.
The mountains DO look smoky!
The state line actually bisects the park. The park is named after the smoke-like haze that lingers in the area. Newfound Gap Road is the major thoroughfare of the park and is a trans-mountain road named after the Newfound Gap mountain pass. The drive along this road was very picturesque...verdant valleys, tree-covered hillsides, multiple shades of blue and gray hills in the distance, patches of white clouds casting eerie shadows on th lanscape...it was a lovely drive!
One of the major attractions in the park is Clingmans Dome, which is the highest point in the park at 6,643 feet. To get to Clingmans Dome we continued north on Newfound Gap Road and turned onto Clingmans Dome Road which we followed up the mountain to the parking area.
View of the Newfound Gap area
From the parking area, a half mile hike took us to the top of the mountain. Clingmans Dome is wheel-chair accessible because the hike to the top is along a wide paved trail edged by blooming wildflowers. However, the trail is steep. STEEP! I was huffing and puffing all the way up, stopping at times to catch my breath and to admire the view. The trek up to the top was well worth the trouble. Atop Clingmans Dome is a 50 foot observation tower...it too is wheel-chair accessible. The tower provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. It is rumored that on a clear day with excellent visibility you can see five states (Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentuck). We had no such luck!
Anyways, the view from the top was very dramatic.
Finally blues skies
In the background were the bluish and grayish mountains. In the middle ground were the hills colored with every shade of green imaginable. The foreground was dominated by stands of barren and dying trees. Their grayish-white color strikingly stood out against the vibrant living trees. The dead trees were Fraser firs. The cause of death of these fir trees was insect infestation by Balsam woolly adelgids. Literature about the park indicates that these insects have decimated about 95% of the Fraser fir population into a "ghost forest".
After walking back to the car, we drove down Clingmans Dome Road and continued in a northerly direction on Newfound Gap Road. Newfound Gap Road took us up to Newfound Gap mountain pass which is centrally located within the park and is situated on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The Rockefeller Memorial at Newfound Gap was where President FDR dedicated the park in 1940.